Disrupting Drug Markets in the Tenderloin

London Breed
5 min readApr 11, 2023
The corner of Turk and Hyde Street which was an open-air drug market one year ago and now is a safe and welcoming community space run by Urban Alchemy

The recent passage of our $25 million Police Supplemental was just a step in what we need to do to continue addressing public safety issues in our City, and in particular, challenges we’ve been facing in the Tenderloin. To get that emergency budget funding for police overtime, we had support from Tenderloin residents and merchants, as well as others from across the entire City.

That funding will help us to continue our work around disrupting the open-air drug markets in and around the Tenderloin. This is critical for the future health of this neighborhood and of our entire City. While there are various public safety challenges we must address across San Francisco, we have made a commitment to the Tenderloin to make real and lasting change. It won’t be easy and we have a lot more to do. There will be progress and there will be setbacks, but we are committed to doing that work with the resources we have and building support for bringing in more help.

Enforcement Actions in the Tenderloin

The Police have stepped up enforcement in the Tenderloin. In the last three months of 2022 from October 1 to December 31, the police made 162 arrests for possession for sales in the Tenderloin area. This was an 80% increase from the same time period the previous year. In the next three months from January 1 through April 6, they increased that to 217 arrests.

With this increase of enforcement, officers are pulling more narcotics off our streets. In the first three months of this year, they’ve seized:

  • 43 kilograms of narcotics (116% increase same time year over year)
  • 29 kilograms of fentanyl (154% increase same time year over year)

The amount of fentanyl on our streets is alarming. Our police officers, despite being hundreds of officers short of where we need to be, are making arrests constantly. It’s made a difference, but it’s not enough. And I know that many in the Tenderloin fear that we will slip back. But we will continue this work. We will not give up.

I will be honest — our officers relying on overtime to keep this pace up is challenging. It’s difficult and time-intensive work. That’s why our focus has to continue to be pushing forward policies to address our police staffing challenges. That’s how we will make lasting change.

We also need results in the courtroom once arrests are made.

Thankfully our District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has been aggressive in these cases. Since the new DA was appointed last July:

  • The filing rate for felony narcotics sales went up from 75% to 90%.
  • The number of arraignments increased by 78% — At least half of these cases are from the Tenderloin.

These enforcement actions will continue, while our street outreach teams continue to go out and offer services and treatment.

Federal Partnerships

But the fentanyl crisis is bigger than just San Francisco. We need more support, including from the federal government. That’s why I sent a letter to our new United States Attorney who was just sworn in a few weeks ago asking for help and partnership. While our police do work with federal agencies on these issues and my office has been in regular contact with the previous US Attorney on this issue, we need more resources and support. San Francisco cannot do this alone.

I’ve had numerous conversations with federal leaders here in San Francisco and when I’ve been in Washington D.C. about this issue. I’m hopeful for a renewed focus on this issue from the US Attorney’s Office. I know they have prosecuted cases involving drug dealing in the Tenderloin, and that’s positive. We appreciate that work. But we need more.

Health Interventions

Our work in the Tenderloin isn’t just about enforcement: we also need to get those struggling with addiction into treatment.

An example of this work is how our Department of Public Health is using innovative approaches to get the life-saving medication buprenorphine out into the community. And now our paramedics in the San Francisco Fire Department, under new federal rules, will also be able to distribute this medication. Buprenorphine helps reduce opioid withdrawal and cravings and, along with methadone, is the most effective treatment for those struggling with addiction.

We are also working to support Senator Susan Eggman’s conservatorship reform bills at the state level, which will help us get more people into treatment when they cannot help themselves. This bill has drawn some controversy from advocates, but it’s not more controversial than when people are left to die on our streets. The good news is that it has cleared some initial hurdles. There is a long road ahead, and previous efforts have been blocked, but I’m working with a coalition of Mayors to help support getting this bill through.

Our Public Works crews are still going out every single day to clean, alongside efforts by our community partners like the Tenderloin CBD. And our workers who help move people living in encampments get into shelters have continued their work in and around the Tenderloin, building on the efforts from our emergency initiative when they helped over 1,800 people into shelters.

Community Building

We also are continuing to work to build up the community in the Tenderloin. Our Tenderloin Community Action Plan, run by the Planning Department, is distributing $3.5 million dollars in community projects. Projects that were proposed by the community and approved by the City include:

  • Ambassadors for youth safety
  • Public space improvements
  • Community celebrations
  • Addressing basic life needs and challenges in the neighborhood
  • Improving access to neighborhood wellness through community-based services
  • Economic mobility

You can read more here. This funding is in the process of being deployed with projects starting this summer.

In addition to enforcing the laws, this kind of work is critical to the long-term stability of the neighborhood. You can just look at the corner of Turk and Hyde, which used to be home to one of the largest open-air drug markets in the City. The Police shut that down a year ago, and Urban Alchemy then transformed a parking lot into the Oasis, a place where the community can come and gather and get a cup of coffee. This space Oasis is across from a children’s playground. This space is now safer and cleaner than it was. That is due to the combination of enforcement, as well as public space-making and support from our ambassadors at Urban Alchemy.

Urban Alchemy

Urban Alchemy has been an incredible partner in not just addressing this one corner, but in blocks across the Tenderloin. Our police officers can’t be everywhere, and at times what is needed is a strong, positive presence that is keeping an eye on the community and who can call for help or services when needed.

Enforcement is critical in addressing our challenges, but it’s not the only thing we need to do. This work is going to take time. And there will be setbacks. But we are committed to improving the Tenderloin.

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