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Drug policyBreed looks for political points by finding more ways to punish poor...

Breed looks for political points by finding more ways to punish poor people

The latest: Drug testing for welfare recipients, which will never work and probably never happen. Do we live in San Francisco or Texas?


Mayor London Breed is showing her political desperation by attacking poor people.

It’s a tactic the former Mayor Gavin Newsom used to win a tough election battle that could have derailed his career. The results of his attacks on welfare recipients have been a complete policy failure.

The results of Breed’s new moves will also be a failure—and would damage and possibly threaten people’s lives.

The latest Breed move: Announcing that she’s going to take the minimal cash people get from General Assistance if they don’t take drug tests or if they test positive (for what isn’t clear) and don’t go into a treatment program that won’t be available anyway.

Breed started moving to the right at her last State of the City event. Now she’s going even further.

There are essentially zero credible medical professionals, public health professionals, or addiction specialists who support the idea of punitive, forced treatment as a solution to substance use problems. Mission Local talked to six of them.

There are essentially zero empty beds for substance use treatment in the city right now.

There are about 5,000 people on General Assistance, which pays a maximum of less than $700 a month to people who have a place to live.

Under Newsom’s Care Not Cash, homeless indigent adults get $150 a month, which barely pays for even basic necessities, and a shelter or residential hotel bed.

Do the math:

Urine testing 5,000 people every month (or every year? It’s not clear) would cost tens of thousands of dollars and require huge amounts, lab time, and facilities. Sup. Aaron Peskin points out that it’s never going to happen:

If she can’t find the way to prevent several hundred brazen criminals from selling deadly drugs– how does she think she will find the resources to drug test thousands of welfare recipients? The answer is she can’t, and she won’t, and this would simply be silly politics if the issues we face as a city were not so serious.

The utter cruelty of what she is proposing—taking away the tiny amount of money that some of the poorest San Franciscans scramble to survive on—caused Sup. Hillary Ronen to speak out at some length during Tuesday’s meeting:

Despite the fact the rich use drugs as much as the poor, the mayor, Supervisor Dorsey and several others today announced that if the poor on public assistance don’t submit to an analysis and potentially drug testing or drug treatment that we will take away their money. In other words, we are going to hit you over the head with more punishment. She’s already locking them up.

She’s already said compassion kills, but now we are also going to take away the little money you have to live.

Let me just talk about these punitive measures as a way of dealing with a medical problem. Care Not Cash as one of those punitive measures. Care not Cash was ‘it’s you fault you are homeless so we’ll take away your public assistance and make it that much harder to find a place to live.’ Look how successful care not cash has been. We’ve had it on the books for decades. Are the streets better? Do you see less homeless people or more? Recovery often takes many, many times.

Guess what you also need for recovery to work? You need a little bit of self-love. You need a little bit of hope that you can get better. You need a little bit of dignity to believe that you can change your life and get clean and get better.

So, I have to say that, just from a common sense measure, I could spout statistics, I could name a list of addiction medicine doctors a mile long who will tell you that punishment for people that are already living in such pain due to poverty, systemic racism and a medical addiction that is really, really difficult to help doesn’t make any sense at all.

Let’s start believing we can give the medical treatment the care, the dignity and compassion to save lives and to get people into recovery that works.

It’s nasty, mean-spirited, and is never going to happen anyway. So why did Breed hold a press conference Tuesday to announce this plan?

Because her polling numbers are low, and she now has another challenger, Daniel Lurie, who announced his entrance into the race the same day.

It’s weird, though: Lurie, in a series of interviews, has made it clear that he agrees with Breed on almost every single issue. He wants more cops; she wants more cops. He wants to sweep homeless camps; she wants to sweep homeless camps. He wants to blame judges for the drug crisis; she wants to blame judges for the homeless crisis.

They are reading from the exact same political script, that could have been written by the same consultants, who have decided that the way to win the mayor’s race is to move rapidly to the right.

Sup. Connie Chan put it nicely at Tuesday’s meeting: “At times I start to get confused. Am I living in Texas or San Francisco?”

I wonder what would happen if a serious progressive challenger got in the race. Because all of the current candidates are targeting the same voters, and none will get even close to 50 percent in a ranked-choice election.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


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