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.