I live at the corner of Needles and Diarrhea. OK, those aren’t the real names of the streets in my SoMa/Mission neighborhood, but if our thoroughfares were christened after the things most prevalent on them, there’d be a Syringe Street, Poop Place and Smashed Window Way.
I’ve lived in the area for five years now, and while needles, feces and broken car windows have always been common, the past year or so has seen a major spike. Well, at least the needles and the broken windows. The poop is as constant as the Northern Star. That’s because we have an immensely concentrated amount of homeless encampments, and while the authorities shift them around every couple weeks, this does nothing to alleviate any of the actual issues.
Needles are so common that yesterday I saw a woman casually talking with a syringe tucked behind her ear, as if it was a cigarette or a pencil.
So why is there suddenly a spike in used needles littering our streets? There’s a few reasons. The first is that, for a number of years, we had a near epidemic of doctors overprescribing highly addictive opioids, like OxyContin. While the authorities have cracked down on people’s abilities to get their hands on these drugs, they didn’t take to treating these peoples’ addictions with the same gusto. Many of them turned to street drugs, like heroin, to get their fix.
Happening simultaneously, the legalization of marijuana in many states has taken a major bite out of the profits of drug cartels, so they’ve turned to flooding our streets with cheap heroin and meth instead. Think about that for a second: Simply legalizing weed had the ability to do what decades of the “War on Drugs” wasn’t able to do. Isn’t it time to start the process of at least decriminalizing hard drugs?
This perfect storm of suddenly having a bunch of opioid addicts without a supply, and market flooded with cheap heroin, has caused a smack epidemic on our streets. At the moment, heroin use is at a 20-year high, and junk-related deaths have grown five-fold since the year 2000. Those of you constantly yammering on about how “the market will regulate itself” should probably just go fuck yourselves.
The obvious question is: How do we fix this?
On a grand scale, we need to shift the national conversation to treating addiction and mental illness like diseases, not just poor decisions. But that’s not going to happen while Donny is in office. Luckily, there are things that can be done on a local level.
The first step is honestly tackling homelessness. It’s hard enough to get clean when you have a home; imagine how difficult it is when you live in a tent. I’d like to implore the billionaires who made their fortunes off this city, while seeing poor and middle-class people flounder, to use their wealth to end homelessness. Recently, Marc Benioff and some other billionaires became involved in a private-public partnership to end family homelessness in San Francisco. Let’s take it a step further and have them end it completely.
But while we’re holding our breath for that, we can start getting more services to the people in the encampments. They need 24-hour bathroom access, and at these bathrooms, they need needle receptacles. We can also attach needle receptacles to trashcans in the surrounding areas. On top of this, we should bulk up our Homeless Outreach Teams. This, and similar programs, should be given more money and resources to battle disease and malnourishment at the encampments, while providing more needle exchange opportunities as well as Narcan, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses. The HOT teams are already doing great work, but if we want to see any changes, we need to support them as much as possible. This could even include creating a mobile addiction treatment unit of sorts that visits the encampments.
We live in one of the finest cities in the world, not a Charles Dickens novel. Let’s start acting like it and get our houseless neighbors the help they need.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.