The Golden State Warriors won it all again last night. The Warriors exemplify all that is great about this beautiful city that I call home. They are resilient, bouncing back time and time again, grasping onto the possibility of victory and success. The Warriors have hustle, they create opportunity and make plays, just like how every ordinary person who lives in this City of excruciatingly high rents has to hustle to survive. Everyone here who is not a tech millionaire has a job, and at least a couple of side hustles to make ends meet. This is a city of people who make things happen. The Warriors win through sheer talent, hard work, determination and excellence, much like how San Francisco itself is full of people who do that on a day to day basis.
I can’t help but think, if this City put as many resources into the twin needs of harm reduction and homelessness assistance then we could not just win Championships, however pleasurable that might be, instead we could actually save lives.
For all the glitter and glitz and shine of this rich city on the Bay, there is so much suffering and turmoil. San Francisco had a combined sheltered and ‘unsheltered’ homeless population of 7,754 at the last city count in February 2022. The numbers of homeless people fell during the pandemic due to the increased shelter provision in the form of ‘shelter in place’ hotels, like the one I was resident in for ten months from November 2020 to September the following year. These small declines were achieved because, as I found first hand, a little support and assistance can lead to permanent and meaningful resolution of the causes of homelessness. The hotels closed by spring this year, their funding removed. I often wonder if the numbers which declined by 3.5 percent between the last count in 2019 and February this year, are going to start to creep up again. If a small fraction of the money spent on basketball in this city was spent on reopening the hotel system, think how many lives could be saved? How many more people would have the ability to create meaningful and purposeful change in their day to day circumstances?
The Golden State Warriors brought in 700 million in revenue last year. The team is valued at more than 5 billion dollars. San Francisco spends a large amount on shelters and supportive services every year, it is true, but a lot of this goes into keeping temporary options open, rather than getting people into permanent housing solutions. This city seems to care more about our admittedly wonderful and entertaining sports teams than people’s lives. This is evidenced by the fact that the Mayor has just removed funding for the large harm reduction center in the Tenderloin. The Linkage Center will close at the end of the year after fighting the good fight, and hooking up unhoused and addicted population with harm reduction and shelter services.
It is almost impossible to quantify how many lives were positively affected and indeed changed by The Linkage Center. The narcan they give out and administer, the support and referring to opiate substitution programs such as methadone and suboxone/buprenorphine treatments are all directly life saving actions. The fact that they were there and caring for people, helping them by providing a safer and supportive environment, whilst not quite an outright safe use site was much better than the other option, and the option that users in the Tenderloin will have in the future – namely nothing at all. Nothing will be standing between the vulnerable unhoused population of the area, and the users of drugs, especially opiates and IV drug users, and the bleak horror of overdose and possible death.
This is a city of two halves, the haves and have nots. The ‘haves’ seem to think that if they do not help, treat or acknowledge the suffering that it will simply disappear. They want a city that is entirely Warriors and Giants, tech campuses and prosperity, however this rich and demanding population seem to be completely divorced from reality. Ignoring the suffering does not make it go away.
The Tenderloin is my home patch. This is where I live. These people, housed and unhoused are my neighbors. I have run outside with a bottle of water and ready to call someone who does have narcan on hand while a young man who still had the needle in his arm seemed to be ‘falling out’ (seemed to go into an overdosed state) outside my window. I am clean now, but I myself have previously struggled with an opiate habit. I know how easy and open access to harm reduction is lifesaving.
People need clean rigs, and in these days of fentanyl laced opiates, they need access to foil for smoking and directing to safer routes of administration. After all, we have to ask ourselves as a society, do we want to punish or do we want to save and preserve life? What are our motives? Do we, as a society actually believe that removing services removes the problem, or are we able to look at reality, square in the face and realize that ignoring the problems, turning away from the suffering and the pain and the danger, does not actually solve anything at all?
People get excited over sports, excited over winning, and of course, those are exciting things, but what society really needs is for us all to get passionate and excited by solving the huge problems of our times and our cities. Saving lives is the most exciting act of all. Saving lives is not simply a literal act, lives can also be saved in so far as timely and appropriate services and intervention can elevate homeless populations and the often intersecting addicted populations and give them a hand up into a real and meaningful life that is lived rather than merely existed and withstood.
Surely if we can spend so much money on superlative sports teams, some of that could be directed into keeping harm reduction and homeless services fully open and operational. We really need to ask ourselves what our priorities are, and what we actually really care about. I care about people, I care about second chances. Do you?