S.F. needle center at Haight debate’s heart

Perhaps the past is coming back to roost in the Haight as community residents are banding together to oppose a needle exchange program from moving a block and a half off the famous street and into a more residential area.

The Homeless Youth Alliance wants to move from its cramped location at the intersection of Haight and Cole streets to the friendly confines of Hamilton United Methodist Church on Waller Street less than 650 feet away.

But neighborhood concerns about bringing such clientele into the quiet neighborhood with a preschool have caused the Alliance and The City’s Department of Public Health, which funds the program, to put any move to work on community relations on hold.

Derek Haynes, who lives on Belvedere Street next to the church, said he supports the program, which provides medical attention, case management, and substance use treatment, including a needle exchange, to homeless youths. But the thought of homeless, drug-addled youths hanging out on his street with preschoolers around scares him, he said.

“I think what we’re saying is let’s look at where it is right now and compare it,” Haynes said. “It’s a world away.”

Peter Davidson chairs the board of the Homeless Youth Alliance, which sees as many as 80 people every week, he estimated.

Davidson said he was sympathetic to the residents’ concerns, and Alliance and Public Health officials would work with the neighborhood to educate them on what they do, which includes proper intravenous drug usage to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV.

Their current space at 1696 Haight St. is so small that there is often overflow onto the curb, a reason why the group is looking to move to the Hamilton Church, he said.

“Once we have that better relationship in place, we’ll be in a better place to discuss moving again,” the chairman said.

The program received $275,000 this year from The City, according to Tracey Packer, manager of Community Planning with Public Health, and because it receives city funds, any move must be approved by the appropriate commission, in this case the Health Commission.

After a Wednesday night community meeting that by all accounts was heated, any plans for a commission vote were delayed, Packer said.

But a delay may not smooth out the differences as neighbors, already upset with the church for gumming up streets during events, have had enough.

“They’re not going to do it anymore,” said Barbara Alexander, who runs a preschool around the corner from the church. “They’re not going to say, ‘We’re all free and loose here in the Haight.’”

The next community meeting is Thursday.

dsmith@examiner.com

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