Progress Report: City Far from Achieving Goals of Tenderloin Initiative

Highlights for the Week Ending April 24, 2022



Reduce Drug Sales and Violent Crime

  • When the City launched the Tenderloin Initiative, supporters hoped the effort would significantly reduce drug sales and crime, while critics feared excessive police action against drug users. Neither outcome has come about. The data shows modest levels of arrests for drug sellers, but not drug users, which is consistent with the stated focus on reducing drug trafficking. However, the data is too limited to evaluate the City’s real progress.

  • First, the City hasn’t released data on the final disposition of these arrests. A separate analysis has previously shown that most people arrested for drug dealing in San Francisco quickly return to the streets after serving little jail time. Drug dealing in the Tenderloin won’t decline until arrests have consequences.

  • Second, arrest and conviction rates are only proxies for what we really care about – the prevalence of open-air drug dealing. To demonstrate success, the City needs to create a more direct measure of drug dealing, for example by recording observations of street activity or even through public opinion polling.

Reduce Homelessness and Street Sleeping

  • The City has successfully helped 807 people exit street sleeping since the start of the Tenderloin Initiative. The vast majority of those people – 708 individuals – were initially moved to shelter, which means that they still need to find permanent housing. The City has achieved impressive results in just four months. At the same time, we need more information to make a full assessment of the City’s results.

  • First, we do not know how many people are currently unsheltered in the Tenderloin and the rest of the City. The results of the Point-in-Time count from January will be available soon, but that data will only be accurate as of a single night in January. The City does not conduct regular counts of unsheltered people, which means that we do not know how many more people remain on the streets.

  • Second, we know that the biggest obstacle to helping people move off of the streets is the lack of sufficient shelter and housing. While the City is trying to expand its shelter capacity, it would be helpful to understand the City’s actual pipeline for new shelter. The City should clarify its shelter plans so that we can determine whether the City will have sufficient space for all of the unsheltered people who need it.

  • And third, the City’s tent counts show that while the number of tents is declining in the Tenderloin, the number of tents is increasing in the rest of the City. This data suggests that some of the positive results in the Tenderloin may reflect the displacement of unsheltered people to other neighborhoods in the City.

Eliminate Widespread Public Drug Usage

  • The City’s main strategy for reducing public drug usage is to offer the Linkage Center as a safe consumption site where people can safely use drugs off of the city streets. The City has averaged 2,508 weekly visits to the Linkage Center, and the Center had 3,038 visits during the week of April 24. This data shows increasing numbers of visits to the Linkage Center, but it doesn’t actually measure what we care about – the extent of public drug usage. Are visits to the Linkage Center reducing public drug usage? To evaluate real progress on this goal, the City needs a more direct measure of public drug usage such as structured observations or even an indirect measure such as public opinion polling.

Reduce Fatal and Non-Fatal Overdoses

  • One of the main justifications for launching the Tenderloin Emergency Initiative in December was to reduce the high level of accidental drug overdose deaths seen in the Tenderloin. Based on the reported data, the City appears to be relying primarily on the use of Naloxone to reverse overdoses. What we’re not seeing is evidence of the City trying to prevent overdoses by reducing substance abuse. The reported data on this goal does not include any data on treatment programs. Moreover, the data for the separate goal of increasing connections to care shows that the City is connecting very few people to drug treatment programs.

Increase Connections to Care

  • Many Tenderloin residents, especially unhoused residents, have significant physical and behavioral health needs. Unfortunately, the data shows that the City has so far had shockingly limited success connecting people to care. According to the data up to April 17, the Linkage Center was averaging only 4 mental health referrals and 19 substance use referrals per week. Since the start of February, the Linkage Center had made a total of 45 mental health referrals and 212 substance use referrals. This means that out of the total 35,108 visits to the Linkage Center, the City had made only 257 behavioral health referrals, representing only 0.7% of total visits.