Pubdate: Mon, 05 Feb 2018
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2018 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Heather Knight


San Francisco is on track to open its first two safe injection sites
this July, a milestone that will likely make the city the first in the
country to embrace the controversial model of allowing drug users to
shoot up under supervision.

Other cities - including Seattle, Baltimore and Philadelphia - are
talking about opening their own safe injection facilities, but San
Francisco could get there first. Facilities already exist in Canada,
Australia and Europe.

Barbara Garcia, director of San Francisco's Department of Public
Health, said Monday that she's tending to the details, including where
the facilities will be located. She's working with six to eight
nonprofits that already operate needle exchanges and offer other drug
addiction services, and two of them will be selected to offer safe
injection on-site.

The city's fiscal year starts July 1, and Garcia said safe injection
should begin "close to that date." After officials get a sense of how
the first two are working, a third and fourth could open, she said.

The safe injection sites will initially be privately funded, though
Garcia wouldn't say where the money's coming from. She said that will
help the city avoid liability, since intravenous drug use is against
state and federal law. Opening the sites doesn't require the approval
of the Board of Supervisors or other city officials.

Asked whether opening the country's first safe injection sites would
place an even bigger target on San Francisco for retribution by the
Trump administration, Garcia didn't sound too concerned.

"That's to be seen," she said. "I'm more worried about people dying in
our streets."

It's a legitimate worry. Today's San Francisco is one big unsafe
injection site, as many of the city's estimated 22,000 intravenous
drug users openly shoot up in plazas, parks and public transit
stations with no consequence, often strewing their dirty needles
around them. It's become the norm to see people on our sidewalks in
broad daylight sticking needles in just about every body part.

The safe injection sites could mean fewer dirty needles on the
streets, since they'd be collected inside. Public health officials
believe that 85 percent of the city's intravenous drug users would use
safe injection sites and that the city could save $3.5 million a year
in medical costs.

Garcia has been working on the idea for six years and had made little
headway until recently. Now, residents and City Hall alike have
finally warmed up to what was once a taboo idea.

The Chamber of Commerce's Dignity Health CityBeat Poll is conducted
every year, and for the first time this year included a question about
safe injection sites. It asked respondents whether they support or
oppose "drop-in facilities called safe injection sites where
intravenous drug users could use their drugs, off the street, and in a
place where medical and social services are available."

Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they back the idea - 45
percent strongly and 22 percent somewhat. Twenty-seven percent opposed
it, and 6 percent didn't know. The poll found support for the sites
regardless of age or homeownership. Progressives, liberals and
moderates all backed the idea, though just 42 percent of
self-described conservatives did.

The poll was conducted in January by David Binder Research and
surveyed 500 registered city voters in English and Cantonese. The
margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for public policy at the chamber,
said he wasn't surprised to see such strong support for safe injection
sites. He said the annual poll consistently finds support for just
about any potential solution to the devastating quality-of-life
problems that plague the city's streets.

"I think the open and notorious use of drugs on the street gives rise
to overwhelming support for safe injection sites as a possible
solution," he said.

Another proponent of safe injection sites? Mayor Mark Farrell.

At a Chronicle editorial board meeting last week, Farrell said the
status quo isn't working.

"I understand the misgivings around it and some of the rhetoric from
people who don't support it, but we absolutely need to give it a try,"
he said.

San Francisco has rarely shied away from breaking state or federal law
when its leaders felt they were right, and city officials don't seem
all that concerned about breaking it again.

State Sen. Scott Wiener is still trying to get state law changed to
ensure that anybody associated with safe injection sites - including
the property owners, employees and drug users themselves - don't face
arrest. The bill passed in the Assembly last year but remains two
votes short in the Senate.

Even if it does pass, it needs Gov. Jerry Brown's signature and
wouldn't go into effect until next year. In the meantime, Wiener
supports the sites opening in San Francisco "as quickly as possible."

"I'm fully supportive of the city moving forward, just like we did
with needle exchange before it was technically legal," Wiener said.
"We need to do everything in our power to keep people healthy, to get
people off the streets so they're injecting in a safe space indoors
instead of on people's doorsteps or in public parks, and to make sure
we can intervene quickly if they overdose."

As for making San Francisco even more ripe for retribution from the
Trump administration, Wiener said, "They're already gunning for us in
every conceivable way."

What's one more?

P.S. That chamber poll has lots of interesting findings.

No surprise that homelessness and the cost of rents and homeownership
were cited most often by people as among their top issues of concern.
But 15 percent said crime, gangs and drugs were a top issue, up from
just 8 percent last year. And 49 percent of respondents said crime had
gotten worse in the past few years, while only 16 percent thought it
was better.

Maybe those incessant car break-ins are, um, shattering people's
feelings of safety in the city. Still, 59 percent had a favorable view
of the San Francisco Police Department.

Mayoral candidates would be wise to note that the vast majority of
respondents said housing availability, controlling the cost of living,
traffic congestion, homelessness and street behavior, and parking had
all gotten worse over the past few years.

In other words, there's plenty of room for improvement.
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MAP posted-by: Matt