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San Francisco’s compassion crisis

Thomas Wolf was in a pickle. His doctor no longer prescribed him the narcotic pain reliever oxycodone for his foot injury, but his supply had run out. Wolf didn’t think he could live without his pills anymore. So he searched on YouTube: “Where can I buy drugs in San Francisco?” YouTube directed him to Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. 

Wolf drove to that block, tense and nervous. He had never hit the streets looking for drugs before. How does it even work? He didn’t wonder for long. Within minutes, a man sidled up to him: “Yo, wassup, wassup, you need something?” Wolf handed him some cash, the man plopped white pills into his palm, and that was it—his first illegal drug transaction. It was that easy, that quick. 

Wolf drove back to that block, again and again. He found a Vietnam veteran who sold him 80-milligram oxycodone pills at about $30 per pill. He soon needed eight pills a day to achieve his usual high. He was brazenly spending $240 a day on pills, because here on these streets, it doesn’t matter if police officers are present: The open-air, free-for-all drug den continues all day, all night, with almost no legal repercussions. 

From billboards to policies, San Francisco trumpets an image of a progressive, social-justice-minded, and compassion-flowing city. Help is aplenty, given without judgment. Within the Tenderloin district, nonprofits offer all kinds of services. Volunteer groups hand out neatly packaged sandwiches. Multiple organizations, partnering with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, provide free drug-use supplies such as needles and metal cookers in the name of “harm reduction.”

But San Francisco also faces a severe drug and homelessness crisis, which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. Pre-pandemic, the drug-addled and homeless easily blended into the crowds. Now, with city streets eerily empty, San Francisco’s sickest and poorest are more visible: Up to 448 tents occupied the Tenderloin district at one point. Feces, urine, rotting food, and needles littered the streets, prompting the UC Hastings College of Law to sue the city and county on May 4: “What has long been suffered in the Tenderloin has become insufferable.” 

Read more at World Magazine

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