Our executive director, Sherilyn Adams, shared her opinion on Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to veto Assembly Bill 186 and how this affects young people experiencing homelessness in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. Here is the full text of the piece:

I have lost friends, family members and countless clients to the deadly consequences of addiction, which is why I am disheartened and disappointed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent decision to veto Assembly Bill 186. This legislation would have allowed San Francisco to open facilities for individuals to use controlled substances under the supervision of trained medical staff under a four-year-pilot program. 

Brown’s decision to veto the bill stemmed from skepticism that government-sponsored injection centers will reduce drug addiction without also requiring users to undergo residential treatment. Data shows this is not the case.

Supervised injection sites drastically reduce the number of overdose deaths, reduce rates of disease transmission (e.g., HIV), and provide drug users with a clear and compassionate entryway to treatment programs without a corresponding increase in crime or drug trafficking. Forcing users into treatment plans simply does not work, rather, it creates a disincentive. Recovery must be chosen, not imposed.

Day in and day out, my team and I at Larkin Street Youth Services work with hundreds of young people experiencing homelessness. Most of the young people we serve have experienced significant trauma — as both a cause and a result of their homelessness, and drug use as a coping mechanism is common.

In fact, more than 70 percent of young people entering Larkin Street housing report using drugs in their lifetime, and, on average, the first age of drug use is 15 years old. In a city with some 200 overdose deaths a year, this crisis has dire effects. A study out of UC Berkeley published last year found that youth experiencing homelessness die at rates 10 times higher than their housed peers.

Gov. Brown’s second argument against the initiative was the disconnect it would create between state and federal law on this issue: though local officials and health-care professionals at the sites would have been granted immunity under state law, no such promise would be made under federal law. To rebut this argument, I point to California’s role, especially in the last two years, as a visionary for progressive and innovative solutions to complex problems. In the face of federal backlash, time and time again California has established itself as a state where we take risks for the issues we believe in, standing up for those who need it most. We should make no exception for this issue.

Gov. Brown stated in closing that AB186 was “all carrot and no stick.” I disagree. California has a very real responsibility to address this emergency.

That’s why Mayor London Breed has been firm and unwavering in her support of the measure to pursue safe-injection sites as a forward-thinking means to address the crippling opioid and heroin crisis. This past Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom joined the chorus, announcing his tentative support for the measure. Championed by Assembly member Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, AB186 touted a robust coalition of support, garnering endorsements from groups spanning the public health and advocacy sectors such as California Health Advocates, HealthRight360, and the ACLU of California. 

Leadership matters. If elected governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has the power to bring this initiative across the finish line by making this a key priority for his first 100 days in office. I implore readers to make your support for this initiative known, and call upon Newsom to take this bold step to save lives and address the myriad public health problems that are associated with use of intravenous drugs on our streets.

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