City Defunds Services and Pushes Criminalization in Shut-Down of Tenderloin Linkage Center

by Ian James

The Tenderloin Center was shut down by city officials on December 4. The center was a low barrier service hub serving over 400 people per day on average. They were provided with meals and connections to services including harm reduction, substance use and housing. The center also served as a safe place for people to use drugs in a supervised environment.

Originally dubbed “The Tenderloin Linkage Center,” the location was created as part of Mayor London Breed’s Tenderloin “State of Emergency” declaration. The declaration was criticized at the time for introducing a plan heavy on police rhetoric but light on details. However, with the help of several service providers, the center soon emerged as a valuable resource to the community. 

Indeed, the center got much use in the 11 months it operated. The San Francisco Examiner reported over 99,000 hot meals being served, 8,956 showers provided and 3,493 loads of laundry washed, while 628 people signed up for Medi-Cal. While critics bemoaned drug use in and around the facility, 322 overdoses were reversed with naloxone and no deaths were reported in the center during operating hours. 

After news of the closure was announced last June, Mayor Breed’s spokesperson Parisa Safarzadeh told the San Francisco Chronicle that the temporary center was an “immediate intervention to stabilize the community in the short term while the city developed its longer term plans for the Tenderloin.”

For almost six months, City officials have known that the center would close by the end of the year, because Mayor Breed had not included further funding for it in her budget proposal. The Department of Public Health had initially committed to opening several smaller linkage centers to reinstate services being offered by the original center. No replacement centers have been opened yet, nor have any sites been publicly identified. The Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance calling on the Mayor’s Office and the Public Health Department to continue providing services at the center until a replacement was opened, but the mayor ignored the ordinance.

While the City discontinues the provision of life-saving services, it is doubling down on the criminalization of poor and unhoused people. The Department of Emergency Management announced that, as of December 5, it will close the United Nations Plaza from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. As of publication, the department has not clarified how those hours will be enforced, but the San Francisco Police Department has said that it will increase police presence. 

Advocates have criticized the plan to close the plaza, pointing out that San Francisco’s homeless population, which is disproportionately Black and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, have nowhere else to go. San Francisco’s shelter system is under-resourced, and shelter reservations that were once available through resource centers and the 311 phone system are now only accessible through the Homeless Outreach Team, which is ill equipped to help thousands of San Franciscans connect with appropriate resources. They argue that creating the replacement linkage centers and improving the system for accessing shelter and housing would be a better use of City resources than criminalizing poor people for existing in public space.