It would be easy to miss, with Prop C in full swing, with political candidates talking about their “solutions to the biggest challenges facing the city today”, with successive mayors intensifying the criminalizing sweeps of our friends and family on the streets… But San Francisco is making radical steps – leading the country, in fact – with the first ever demonstration model of a safe injection site in the United States.
“Safer Inside: A Community Demonstration” took place in the last week of August, at Glide. What follows are impressions of my visit to the model site. As I write this, State officials are signing into law the practice of Safe Injection/Safe Consumption Sites (SIS/SCS) in San Francisco, and “Safer Inside” hopes to set the tone for the real, fully-operational SCS sites we’ll be seeing across the city over the next few months.
Upon entering the model safe injection site past a Community Safety (note: not “Security”) officer, a receptionist asks visitors for a name. The name visitors provide can be their real name, or any alias they choose, so long as they use the same name each time they check in. Example names were: “Peanut” and “Mickey Mouse”. The clinic implements this policy of ambiguity to provide a space which is welcoming and non-judgmental with minimal entry Barriers.
Visitors move past some example “Community Agreements” (note: not “Rules”) which are subject
to change depending on community input as a fairer way to hold each other accountable without policing one another. These future sites will also practice Harm Reduction techniques with visitors who come through the door – meeting people where they’re at (ie:without judgement), helping people to feel safe, asking what they need: not saying “this is why you’re here and this is what you need” but, instead, “thanks for coming in – what can we do for you, what do you need right now?”
Past the agreements was a booth that had injection kits, with various sizes of needles, latex or non-latex tourniquets, and several other amenities such as Vitamin C, which breaks down crack cocaine to be dissolved into water for injection. Visitors can take injection supplies with them or stay on-site where staff direct them to private booths to inject inside at their own pace. If you come in with full sharps containers, bins in which people can safely dispose of used needles, you can drop them off as part of this process.
“This is just one model,” a tour guide told us, “there are many different models; from brick and mortar through to mobile units, tents, and more.” She continued to list different visions for SIS/SCS sites, sites with “curtained spaces for people to inject privately in their inner thigh,” and even sites with “foot baths, too, for people who inject in their feet and want to clean them first.”
Next, a chill room. Room for people to unpack and repack their bags. Flat spaces, tables to fill in documents. Photos and stories on the wall. Staff on hand to “connect people to whatever services they might need.”
That was the end of the tour.
Even the doubters in the room left with a little less cynicism, with a little more understanding and compassion. Thanks to Glide and the Tenderloin Health Improvement Partnership for committing to save lives, for putting so much thought and work into this. Tours are now closed, but you can learn more at www.saferinside.org.