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San Francisco to Open First Permanent Supportive Housing for the Sober Community

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The exterior signage of the North Beach Hotel.
Mayor London Breed walked back plans to open the permanent supportive housing site at Hotel North Beach, 935 Kearny St., just days after first announcing the idea. (Sydney Johnson/KQED)

San Francisco plans to open its first permanent supportive housing for residents who are sober and in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, Mayor London Breed announced Thursday alongside recovery advocates.

The 149 units at 935 Kearny St. come as overdose deaths have continued to rise in San Francisco and across the West Coast. San Francisco recorded 806 drug overdose deaths in 2023 — more than in any other year on record.

“We all know it’s very hard to be in recovery when you’re around people who are not like-minded,” said Shireen McSpadden, executive director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, at a press conference Thursday at Hotel North Beach, where the city’s new units will be located. “We hope this new model will better support people in achieving their goals.”

Sober living units will be prioritized for people experiencing homelessness who have completed drug treatment programs, as well as people who already live in any of the city’s existing 10,000-plus units of permanent supportive housing and are seeking a sober environment.

Residents will be required to meet with social workers on-site to develop “recovery prevention plans,” according to Richard Beal, a recovery advocate and director at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which the city contracts with to provide low-income housing. At Hotel North Beach, there will also be recovery-focused group meetings on-site and case workers to support residents in their recovery journey and other health and social needs.

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Tenderloin Housing Clinic and the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing will oversee the new program.

“We have so much work to do. We know,” Mayor London Breed said on Thursday. “But I think a project like this could be a game-changer and very transformative and exciting for so many people who deserve a second chance.”

Recovery advocates in the city have pushed for Breed to open more housing units for people seeking sober environments. Many people who are sober live in the city’s existing permanent supportive housing, but some say having a community dedicated to supporting their recovery journey could be beneficial.

A recent survey of 450 Tenderloin Housing Clinic residents found that 71% said they would prefer to live in a sober hotel, according to Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who shared the findings at Thursday’s press conference.

“We have had a lot of people tell us this is what they want,” McSpadden said.

But opening up an all-sober housing option within the city’s permanent supportive housing inventory hasn’t been easy.

Fair housing laws prevent local governments from mandating residents to be sober to access public housing — because that could discriminate against people who are in recovery and make it even harder to access shelter.

To get around state law barriers, the sober living program at Hotel North Beach will be paid through city dollars from the general fund, city officials said.

“I thank God that London Breed listened to the community, listened to the people, for having more transitional housing and helping people get to permanent housing,” said Cedric Akbar, a recovery advocate and executive director of Positive Directions Equals Changes. “One size does not fit all.”

San Francisco recently reopened 70 units of permanent supportive housing on Treasure Island for people in recovery who had just completed a residential drug treatment program. Residents, however, can’t stay there long term and must leave between six months to two years.

One resident at the Treasure Island site named Craig H. told KQED that having a like-minded community has supported his sobriety. But, he said it can be difficult to maintain sobriety after exiting transitional housing programs.

“San Francisco can help those of us that are getting ready to go back into the world. We need some housing,” Craig H. said. “We don’t need to be thrown back on 16th and Mission. We don’t need just SROs in the Tenderloin. We need a shot at it.”

At North Beach Hotel, the hope is to create more spaces for people who are at a stage of their recovery where a sober community could help.

Case managers and social workers at the hotel will also support residents if they relapse.

If someone does relapse, Breed said, “Our goal is not to throw them out and put them on the streets, but to take them out of the environment and place them in another location that could provide more wraparound support services.”

Thursday’s press conference was interrupted by six residents and business owners who complained that they were not notified ahead of time of plans to open the sober living site in the neighborhood. The group chanted “no” as Breed walked up to speak and asked why they weren’t informed of the plans before the press conference.

McSpadden of HSH said that the city is following its normal process by identifying the site first and then inviting the community to provide feedback.

The purchase of the building has yet to be finalized, and the city has until March 7 to conduct outreach and community engagement about concerns and hopes for the site.

There will be a public meeting on Feb. 20 at the City College Chinatown campus to discuss the plans and gather local input.

“We know there have been some people who have not been directly outreached to, but we want to make that commitment today, that our goal is to sit down and have that conversation as we go through the process,” Breed said directly to critics at the press conference Thursday. “This is not about providing anything other than a safe living environment to be clean and sober and to contribute to the businesses and surrounding community.”

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