Mayor London Breed addresses an unruly crowd at a mayoral question session addressing the fentanyl crisis and held on UN Plaza on May 23. Moments later, Board President Aaron Peskin pulled the plug on the outdoor session citing raucous behavior, and moved the proceedings indoors. Photo taken on May 23, 2023 by Griffin Jones

A buzzing crowd of around 100 people convened at 2 p.m. in United Nations Plaza today to hear Mayor London Breed speak for a total of 10 minutes on the city’s fentanyl crisis, until multiple individuals in the crowd shouted her down and someone threw a brick.

Board President Aaron Peskin called today’s monthly Board of Supervisors mayoral question session outside at the plaza, only feet away from City Hall. It was a unique move to question Breed directly on her latest policies around the fentanyl crisis and record overdoses experienced by people on the street, many of which happen right in and around the UN Plaza.

According to the city’s medical examiner, 268 people have died from accidental overdoses so far in 2023, the highest rate in the past three years. The majority of those who overdosed, 67 percent, had a fixed address and were not on the streets.

As the sun shone brightly on the crowd, Breed bore a look of displeasure long before taking her position at the podium to scattered boos and claps. Breed remarked passionately on growing up in San Francisco, her own sister’s struggles with addiction and the need for drastic change.

“I run into people, day in and day out, in the Tenderloin. They say, ‘London, we would have never been allowed to get away with this stuff back in the day.’”

“We have to make the kinds of decisions that are going to allow for people to get the help and support they need — but to not allow things to continue the way they have for far too long.”

At the crowd’s edge stood around 15 San Francisco police officers and 20 representatives from Urban Alchemy, an organization that aims to make public spaces safer. Many present were workers from homelessness and public health organizations like Code Tenderloin, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and several navigation centers.

Following Breed’s statement, Peskin described the need to properly “coordinate departments.” 

“Many San Franciscans do not feel safe,” he said.

“As the mayor said, this is not an issue of resources, but an issue of coordination.” He went on to ask Breed his first question, pointing to the need for a “centralized operations center.”

“Will you, as we do in major emergencies, stand up an emergency operations center, involving the police department, the Department of Public Health, Adult Probation, Department of Public Works, and other agencies and direct them to shut down public drug dealing in open air sites such as this one in the next 90 days?” Peskin asked.

Breed didn’t get a chance to answer — at least not audibly. When she returned to the podium, a spectator launched into an ear-splitting whistle of the “Star Spangled Banner,” while others started chanting “No more cops,” enough that the mayor turned around and Peskin abruptly pulled the plug on the outdoor meeting, called a recess, and relocated the event to the Board of Supervisors chambers on City Hall’s second floor. 

“This is a circus,” someone scoffed. People scattered as city officials headed back around the corner to City Hall. A woman was arrested after purportedly throwing a brick in the mayor’s direction and striking a bystander. 

Once inside, to a much more sedate audience, the mayor told the crowd her new plan includes what she calls “tough love.” 

“We are looking at being more aggressive with people who are struggling with addiction,” she told the packed room. “Compassion is killing people.”

Breed insinuated that state authorities have agreed to step in: “They want to oversee the operation, and we will follow direction — whatever it takes.” 

“This is the beginning of that conversation, it’s not the end. The uncomfortable conversations have to happen.” 

Though Breed talked “real solutions,” no specific plans were detailed in the outdoor-indoor Board of Supervisors meeting. 

“We’ve been asking for the focus to be on this for a while,” said Del Seymour from Code Tenderloin at today’s meeting.

“People are actually losing their lives. Nothing’s working right now. Our death toll is going up, not down,” said Seymour, himself a former longtime drug-user. “The money is going to security and enforcement; it should be going to recovery and mental and physical health.”

“Fentanyl crisis, addiction is a disease. You can’t solve addiction with a police officer.”

Charie Collins, a worker at a navigation center on Evans Avenue, said people at the shelter were dying at an alarming frequency from overdoses.

“I work in a funeral home: The Bayview nav center.”

“They’re dying like flies; dying on the toilet, in the showers, behind cars,” she said. “And it’s not being reported. They don’t get a good burial. Fentanyl’s got to get out of the shelter. They allow them to get high. So I have to wait ’til they die to help them. They need to send [Mayor Breed] to the shelter.”

Once indoors, the regular Board of Supervisors meeting continued, and is currently ongoing. 

This story will be updated with further details from today’s meeting.

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Reporter/Intern. Griffin Jones is a writer born and raised in San Francisco.

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  1. During the budget process the Board should put the entirety of the budget of the Department of Homeless Services and Housing on Board reserve and meter out monthly allocations based on the Mayor’s performance in meeting goals and targets.

    Some might view this as a power grab. But if the Board is going to be held accountable for mayoral failure, then it needs to give the Mayor a stern hand holding under the antisepsis of sunshine.

    The Board has options. Will they use them or will they refuse to fix homelessness money laundering the way they declined to fix the strong mayor dysfunction that enables the unchecked dysfunction with charter amendments?

  2. Back to Basics!
    When the mayor called on a state of emergency there should of been a plan enacted.
    #1.Register all homeless people with .sf Id and case #
    #2.put a curfew on the tenderloin during this time
    #3 public address and information monitor needs to be placed outside in the TL broadcasting information and official ordinances in effect
    Make a triage of services to serve victims of the streets
    Red tag all encampments stating the emergency and if you refuse help of the city then you need to go because living on the streets is not an option.
    Change the term homeless to ” in transition” . Hire the 300 officers needed or get boots on the ground to replace the 300 cops with national guard.

  3. Breed always says the right thing but when it comes to having a concrete plan is nowhere to be seen. I remember last year she had a week of public announcements condemning the BS and then disappeared for months. Inaction is killing this city. If you’re going to complain then DO something. You’re the mayor! And stop blaming the board of supervisors for your hands being tied. Good politicians always find a way.

  4. Compassion is not killing people; an effective intervention with sensitivity to the turmoil of addiction would be compassion. In fact, the lack of compassion is killing people. We need an effective program that addresses the mental state and needs of addicts. Draconian measures will not do; neither will bleeding hearts. We need a realistic, but compassionate, approach to this problem.

  5. “As the mayor said, this is not an issue of resources, but an issue of coordination.”
    So we have plenty of empty beds in residential drug facilities to help these addicts? NO WE DO NOT. So this is not only about coordination, but lack of a place for those who WANT help much less a place for those who refuse it.

  6. I was standing on the granite block that was at the end of the west side of the steps leading up to the platform.

    I saw Breed speak with minimal heckling. When Breed finished and Peskin spoke, the hecking turned up to 11. Tom Wolf was grinning.

    We’ve got to remember that the wealthy are showering these groups with cash money to direct our attention where they want it.

    I did not hear Breed try to say anything after Peskin spoke. The sound was so poor that I did not hear anything from the dais after Peskin spoke. The meeting was adjourned.

    I also saw the failed throwing a the brick up close.

    As Breed arrived, I shouted at her “CORRUPT MAYOR WALKING.”

    1. Marcos… as clueless as ever. It has nothing to do with the wealthy :showering these groups.” Most of the people there were Tenderloin residents who are sick and tired of wading through slumped addicts, needles, fentanyl foil and other trash. Through there own daily experiences the crowd agreed that compassion is killing and we need a new direction.

      1. And all TL residents knew to remain silent for Breed but to heckle Peskin while T Wolf grinned. Sure, makes perfect sense. Pay no attention to the money men behind the curtain.

    2. Here’s the video link. I’m going to have to give your claim a “unconfirmed, possible conspiracy theory” rating. “What the thinker thinks, the prover proves.”

      I’m giving Redmond’s claim to Peskin possibly kicking off a mayoral campaign a “highly probable.” Peskin has always been full of shit about stepping away. “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”

  7. Political theater. Not one useful solution spoken the whole day. The politicians who were out there today are the same people who shut down the City for the past 2 years. Proudly boasting of the most draconian shutdown in the country. The shut down that destroyed so many lives, creating isolation, loneliness, despair, depression, and now inevitably, death by drugs.

  8. Step 1: police immediately arrest addict who is doing fentanyl in public.
    Step 2: addict goes to jail for a few days to dry out, with medical attention.
    Step 3: addict must either stay in jail longer or agree to treatment and free housing.
    Step 4: hopefully, some addicts will be rescued
    Step 5: back to step 1.

    1. THERE IS NO jail that a person can detox with medical attention.
      Being an addict is not against the law.
      Mary, try reading about how hard it is to get addicts help and how it is impossible to force them into sobriety.

      1. “Mary, try reading about how hard it is to get addicts help and how it is impossible to force them into sobriety.”

        Exactly. Jail it is. And yes jails have medical personnel on site. Stop wasting money on failed programs and reinvest into schools, job programs, housing for our poor who aren’t addicted and struggling to pay rent or living out of their cars.

        1. The famously successful Portugal model is more or less what I described above. Don’t let people rot on the streets. Give them a choice of jail or treatment. Not a choice of more drugs or treatment.

          It works pretty well when there are real programs available. And for many of these guys, housing would be needed as well.

      2. It’s impossible to ‘force them into sobriety’ when you bend over backwards, clearing the way, to let them continue on their present course. The inertia of Addiction will continue unless acted upon by an outside force. (Newtons 1st Law of Motion). Death, is of course, the ultimate ‘outside force’. Addiction results in Death, unless other forces (intervention, the law, ill health perhaps) can come into play before that. Waiting for an addict to ‘want’ to get sober is essentially waiting for Death – with all the debris of that path. Fine if thats the addicts choice (and they were responsible about it – which almost never happens). Sux for all others forced to clean up after them.