Mayor London Breed plans to turn a parking lot at the corner of Jones and Turk streets in the Tenderloin into The City’s first drug sobering center for methamphetamine users. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Breed to transform Tenderloin parking lot into SF’s first drug sobering center

Facility would operate for about 18 months and help meth users

Mayor London Breed plans to turn a parking lot in the Tenderloin into San Francisco’s first drug sobering center that will target those on the streets using methamphetamine.

Breed’s plan, which she is expected to announce Thursday, will turn the 180 Jones St. parking lot on the corner of Jones and Turk streets into a 24-hour, daily facility that allows people to sober up for about eight to 10 hours and then tries to connect them to services.

“Sobering centers help people off the streets and provide a safe place indoors where they can get connected to services,” Breed said. “The reality is that drug use and overdoses are on the rise and doing nothing is not an option.”

“We’re taking action to implement the recommendations of our Meth Task Force because the public drug use we see every day hurts those who are suffering from addiction as well as the surrounding communities,” Breed continued.

The nonprofit HealthRight 360, which operates a number of other drug treatment sites for the Department of Public Health, is expected to run the facility. The plan is for 15 beds and a 24-hour daily operation. With an average length of stay expected at eight to 10 hours for a meth user to sober up, it could serve up to 45 people in a 24-hour period.

The nonprofit will operate a van to transport those from around The City who may be in need of the services. People could also walk in. The site will include showers.

The 4,700 square foot parking lot is owned by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and will eventually become a 71-unit affordable housing development built by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

The sobering center is expected to open late spring and operate for 18 months before shutting down to make way for the housing development. It would cost $6.8 million to build and operate for those many months.

The official public outreach will begin Thursday with the announcement. A community meeting to discuss the plan is scheduled for Feb. 11 at the Antonia Manor housing site at 180 Turk St.

Opening a drug sobering center was a top recommendation made last year by the San Francisco Methamphetamine Task Force, which was convened by Breed and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who is joining Breed in making the announcement.

Mandelman said there is a “tremendous need” for places to take people where they can find encouragement to get into treatment.

“Walking around the Castro on any given day, I see a lot of people who I would love to have a really skilled social worker saying, ‘Hey are you OK ? Would you like to come with me?’” Mandelman said. “Not everybody will, but some people will,” Mandelman said.

The proposal is a pilot program that could lead to similar operations elsewhere.

The task force found that 47 percent of all patient visits to Psychiatric Emergency Services were related to methamphetamine use, illustrating the link between meth use and psychosis.

In making its recommendation, the task force said that a drug sobering center “could serve to relieve pressure on Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) and hospital emergency departments and maximize an encounter with an individual through integrated services and staff trained to engage the population.”

“This model could result in increased connection to services, improved health outcomes, reduced harms of use, and decreased impacts on the general public and the city’s system of services,” the task force said.

The effort also comes as drug overdose deaths are increasing in San Francisco.

Of the 259 fatal drug overdoses in 2018, 126 were attributed to methamphetamine. Fatal meth overdoses were 32 in 2010.

At least one drug sobering center was called for in the Mental Health SF legislation approved by the mayor and board last year to broadly reform services for mental illness and substance use.

“Creating a drug sobering center will save lives,” Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “As we work to transform our behavioral health system of care, we are creating more safe and welcoming places where people experiencing homelessness, substance use disorder and mental illness can find paths to wellness and recovery.”

The San Francisco Examiner first reported on the potential for an interim use at the 180 Jones site in May 2019, when community advocate and former mayoral candidate Amy Farrah Weiss put together a plan to provide tiny homes for the homeless coupled with other services.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing had issued a request for proposals for ideas for an interim use of the site. Weiss submitted her proposal but the office decided to halt the process, citing a review of it for another possible purpose.

That other purpose is now known.

Director of Mental Health Reform Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland said he expects a “steady stream of clients.”

He noted that about half of those who come to PES come voluntarily, looking for a safe environment.

Those who come to the facility will have a counselor assigned to them. Staff will monitor them as they sober up and someone who will talk to them about shelter or treatment options upon their exit.

“It will be a safe place where they will be supported,” Nigusse Bland said. “In my experience, when a person is intoxicated with meth they are just scared and we need to be thoughtful about how we engage with them.”

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