Supervisor Haney Wants Answers and Solutions for Open Air Drug Dealing Epidemic

 
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During the February 12, 2019 Board of Supervisors meeting, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney called for a hearing to address open air drug dealing in the Tenderloin, SOMA, Civic Center, and Mid-Market. The directive comes from the urgent need to re-evaluate the City’s current strategies for handling drug-related issues. Haney’s comments, and statement below, presented a clear-eyed call for action to an increasingly pressurized situation. He also highlighted the critical work residents, small businesses, and nonprofits (including TLCBD Safe Passage) have already been doing; and is looking at city departments—including the Department of Public Health, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Public Works, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, BART, and the Adult Probation Department— to work together toward a more effective solution. We’ll be sharing more, as more information becomes available. In the meantime, here is a copy of Supervisor Matt Haney’s press release to read in full.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 12, 2019

Supervisor Haney Wants Answers and Solutions for Open Air Drug Dealing Epidemic

It is no secret to anyone in San Francisco, and certainly no secret to the residents of the Tenderloin, Mid-Market, Civic Center and SOMA, that just blocks from City Hall, heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine, oxycontin, and ecstasy are dealt in the open with impunity 24 hours a day.  

It’s a problem that is most concentrated in the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Mid-Market, although the impacts are felt by everyone—small businesses, children and families, employees, visitors, people who access services in the area, tenants, and homeowners.

“It’s no secret that the open air drug dealing that takes place every day, all day, in the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Mid-Market would not be allowed in any other neighborhood.  The only secret is exactly what the City’s plan is to address this epidemic,” said Supervisor Matt Haney.

“I’m calling for a hearing today to address open air drug dealing in the Tenderloin, SOMA, Civic Center, and Mid-Market. The City lacks a comprehensive strategy to address this issue and has to take responsibility. We need collaboration across city departments, data-driven solutions, and immediate action,” Haney says.

Every day, kids and families in the Tenderloin and SOMA walk to and from school and witness dozens of drug deals. Every day, people who are recovering from addiction are offered drugs or otherwise forced to endure an environment that makes it all too easy—if not inevitable—to relapse. Every day and night, people, especially women walking to BART or the bus stop feel unsafe in their own neighborhood.

“The people who are most frustrated and most impacted are the people who live in these communities,” Haney says. “Recently, I met with a group of mothers who live on Turk St. They told me that their kids literally can’t step outside the house without being offered to buy or sell drugs. They asked me what the city is doing to protect their children. They also made it clear to me that they wanted to be a part of the solution.”

Scott Smith, a 25 year long resident of the Tenderloin agrees that things need to change: “On a daily basis I see people dealing drugs outside of my window and I see people affected. I find it unacceptable why this is so continuous—it doesn't happen in other neighborhoods. This is the worst I have seen it. Ignoring and pushing everything to the Tenderloin clearly is not working."  

The City has made some recent attempts at addressing the issue—adding a permanent police presence at UN Plaza, erecting barricades, and increasing arrests. But the impacts are unclear, and the strategies lack community engagement and the necessary collaboration across departments.

Nationwide, the War on Drugs, which relied on long mandatory prison sentences for both possession and dealing for low level dealers, has been a failure. There is wide documentation that these policies devastated communities of color, destroyed lives and families, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars, without much impact on drug use or sales.

“This activity wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else in the City,” Haney says. “It’s a public safety and public health crisis. Just last month, I went to a memorial for a young man who died from an overdose. He was 27 years old and had recently obtained housing on the 400 block of Ellis.”

Margarita Mena, who volunteers with the Safe Passage program says, “I am daily on the corner with Safe Passage, I notice [the drug dealing] constantly, and I wonder if we continue to let this go, where are we going to end up? It is urgent that something be done to stop drug dealing in the street, because if not, this will only worsen.”   

“There is a false assumption that we have to either lock up the street level dealers for long sentences, or do nothing. That thinking has left us paralyzed. We must find comprehensive, actionable solutions that address the core issues and change the status quo,” Haney says.

There are a handful of community-driven strategies being implemented that show promising results: Block Safety Groups on the 200 block of Golden Gate and the 300 block of Ellis that involve residents, small businesses, and nonprofits; efforts to replace businesses that served as hubs for street level dealing; efforts to enhance street visibility and lighting; site activation with family-friendly activities; programs like Community Ambassadors and Safe Passage; initiatives like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion and Young Adult Court; and more effective policing strategies built around foot patrols and community policing.

“We have to do more, and everyone has to work together,” Haney says. “We need solutions for people who turn to drug dealing for survival, and also must address the public health and health consequences of addiction.  Above all, we must have a commitment from all relevant City departments to ensure safe and healthy neighborhoods for all of our residents, including those who live in the Tenderloin, SOMA, and Mid Market.

“I hope that by bringing together the right departments—the Department of Public Health, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Public Works, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, BART, and the Adult Probation Department—it will lead to better policy solutions, more collaboration, and a more sustained commitment to fundamentally alter the status quo.”