SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The mayor of San Francisco declared on Friday a state of emergency in the Tenderloin in an effort to bring down overdose deaths and violent crime in one of the city's poorest and most drug-infested neighborhoods.
Mayor London Breed said at a news conference attended by the police chief and other public health personnel that rapid drug intervention is needed because about two people a day are dying of overdoses, mostly from fentanyl, in the Tenderloin and the city's South of Market neighborhood.
The Tenderloin has long been an epicenter of homelessness and drug use, but city officials said the problem has worsened as the national opioid crisis escalated over the course of the pandemic.
"This is a public health emergency demanding a crisis level response, with massive urgency, coordination, and determination to confront this epidemic," Breed said, adding that she hopes the measure will save lives.
The emergency declaration will allow the city to cut through red tape that delays the public response to deteriorating conditions in the Tenderloin and quickly provide shelter, counseling and medical care to people suffering from addiction, Breed and other city officials said.
There will also be more coordinated enforcement of illegal activities, street cleanups and other infrastructure improvements to make the neighborhood safer, they said.
"Everyone in theory can talk about all the policies they want around 'no police' and 'defund the police,' ... but at the end of the day, if someone beat your kid like that 11-year-old girl, who are you going to call to protect you?" Breed said.
She was referring to a Muslim girl in a hijab who was punched in the head on Sept. 29 by a woman who made racist comments. She was arrested for assault, child endangerment and a hate crime.
Breed's announcement came a few days after she pledged to crack down on open drug use, brazen home break-ins and other criminal behavior that she says have made a mockery of the city's famed tolerance and compassion.
San Francisco is grappling with deep societal pains common to any large U.S. city.
A high percentage of an estimated 8,000 homeless people in San Francisco -- many of whom pitch tents in the Tenderloin -- are struggling with chronic addiction or severe mental illness, often both. Some people rant in the streets, nude and in need of medical help. Last year, 712 people died of drug overdoses, compared with 257 people who died of COVID-19.
Critics said Breed was backing down on a promise made last year to cut police funding amid a national reckoning of police and systemic racism.
"Folks can say what they want about this going back on your word, this and that, but at the end of the day the people in this community are not safe. And it is not fair and it's not right," the mayor said.