In February of this year, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health announced that the city was weighing the viability of piloting two Safe Injection Sites for intravenous drug users.
In this era of opioid crisis (to illustrate the magnitude of this issue with a single data point: in 2016 alone, drug overdose deaths numbered more than the U.S. death toll from the entire Vietnam War and the trend is worsening), leaders in many cities across the U.S. are considering evidence-based approaches such as Safe Injection Sites (that are already working in other countries) to contain the epidemic. In San Francisco, the Department of Public Health’s announcement comes less than a year after the Board of Supervisors appointed a task force to determine the feasibility of a Safe Injection Site operating in San Francisco. The task force found strong evidence in support of the idea.
San Francisco is poised to be the first city in the U.S. to open a Safe Injection Site. The event would have great significance for the communities that St. Anthony’s has served for more than 60 years. This month, St. Anthony’s is partnering with GLIDE Memorial Church, the Tenderloin Health Improvement Partnership, and a consortium of other local community organizations to present a full-scale, operational demonstration model of a Safe Injection Site here in our Tenderloin neighborhood. The purpose of the temporary installation is to showcase the ways in which Safe Injection Sites may save lives that would otherwise be lost to overdoses, provide a bridge to treatment, reduce disease transmission and hospitalizations, and contribute to public safety for the community in the surrounding area. The week-long exhibition of the Safe Injection Site model will provide education through interactive displays, experiential learning through guided tours, and community engagement through multiple events, including speaker panels and forums. The collaborative project will also illustrate the integration of a safe injection site into an existing multi-service organization (GLIDE as host organization) in the Tenderloin.
St. Anthony’s plays a role in bringing global awareness to a critical reality that’s been at the forefront of our work for generations: extreme poverty as a human rights issue.
In June, St. Anthony’s hosted German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his wife, Elke Büdenbender, and a delegation of high-ranking German officials and cultural dignitaries. President Steinmeier, who wrote his doctorate of law thesis on homelessness and the traditions and prospects of state intervention to prevent and overcome it, toured our Tech Lab and our Free Clothing Program, taking note of the holistic, interconnected nature of our services and how they work in tandem to recognize every guest as a whole person with rights and dignity.
“Aligned with our core values, we serve people where they are, respecting their needs, goals, hopes and choices. We appreciate that President Steinmeier looks to St. Anthony’s as a model of integrated community solutions to extreme poverty.” – Barry Stenger, Executive Director, St. Anthony’s
Just two days later, at a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a global spotlight was trained on the growing trend of poverty and wealth inequality in our country when Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations’ expert on extreme poverty and human rights, delivered a report on poverty in the United States.
“Growing inequality and widespread poverty…has deeply negative implications for the enjoyment of civil and political rights by many millions of Americans.” – Philip Alston, United Nations
Professor Alston visited St. Anthony’s late last year, when he was in the Bay Area to gather material for his report. He toured our neighborhood, the Tenderloin, with its encampments of homeless. In a gathering held at St. Anthony’s, Professor Alston heard first-hand our neighbors’ and our guests’ stories of deprivation and desperation, but also those of support and rehabilitation. In his report, which suggested that extreme poverty undermines the enjoyment of human and civil rights, he made a strong case for how widespread poverty and homelessness are not a societal inevitability:
“At the end of the day, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power. With political will, it could readily be eliminated.” – Philip Alston, United Nations
In the absence of this political will, St. Anthony’s makes the choice daily to provide services that respect the human rights of all.
We were proud to show Professor Alston and President Steinmeier our work and our world, to contribute to their knowledge, and to bring our Franciscan values of community, personalism, and justice to bear on the global conversation about the link between poverty and human rights.
St. Anthony’s strong and influential voice at these events is made possible by supporters, donors, and advocates like you. Your energy and passion enable us to keep speaking up, making a difference, and changing lives. During a time when it is common to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face the human suffering, we are invigorated by the global focus on these issues, and humbled to be studied by the international community as a model of how we, as a people, can harness our power to break the cycle of extreme poverty and inequality.
Today, we are starting a discussion of how, when we dedicate our skills, energy and passion to change the status quo, we create a healthier, stronger, more resilient society that benefits us all. For the next twelve weeks, we’ll be posting about everyday actions you can choose to help alleviate widespread suffering in your community and beyond. We’ll be covering everything from volunteering opportunities, to local and national calls to action, to ways you can maximize your giving and get your friends, families and colleagues involved and engaged.
Father Alfred Boeddeker’s vision—to create a refuge for San Francisco’s poor and marginalized to get nourishment and support, without judgment—was an embodiment of the values we still uphold today, sixty-eight years and millions of guests later.
Our recent interactions with global leaders have been a reminder of how well those Franciscan values have stood the test of time, and what a wonderful framework they provide for the reduction of extreme poverty worldwide. When we channel those values into a plan of action, we can all choose a future where no one has to sleep on the street; where no schoolchild goes to bed hungry; where families are allowed to remain whole; and where our elderly, disabled, and sick are cared for, not abandoned.
Together, we will see what can happen when we choose to take concrete steps toward a better future.