SF Night Navigation Team reaches out to drug users in at-risk neighborhoods

Thursday, May 9, 2024
Night Navigation Team reaches out to drug users in SF
Code Tenderloin's Night Navigation Team reaches out to drug users in at-risk neighborhoods in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- So far this year, there have been nearly 200 accidental overdose deaths in San Francisco -- most due to fentanyl.

On this cold San Francisco night, there's a craving for redemption among some who struggle with drugs.

Huddled against a building, many come to buy or use drugs. But others take that first step toward treatment, which is encouraged by a small group wearing white vests. They are referred to as the Night Navigation Team.

"See, we're out here at night because we know that's when people are more, they're ready, it's cold, they're hungry," said Donna Hillard, executive director of the nonprofit Code Tenderloin.

MORE: SF street team B.E.S.T. helps bring health care, resources to those at risk

Once homeless and on drugs herself, she now leads this outreach team every night from 7 p.m. to 3 in the morning.

Their mission is to offer medication that will hopefully help get users off opioids.

Through a telehealth consultation with a doctor, they can get a prescriptions on the spot for buprenorphine or methadone.

According to the city's health department, both are known to reduce the risk of death by nearly 50%.

MORE: San Francisco supervisor calls for 'drug tourism' data to see where users are coming from

We spoke to the doctor on the other end of that call just a few hours before.

"So far over 90% of them successfully pick up and start their medications. And having support to make it to whatever that next step might be, whether that's a shelter on the medication or a residential treatment," said Dr. Joanna Eveland of the San Francisco Department of Health.

We ran into Edward Gutierrez who had used fentanyl just 20 minutes ago and was ready to get help.

"I'm outside again, and I think I've had enough of it. So, I'm getting older, and I want to get my life back on track," Gutierrez said.

MORE: Volunteers help clean SF's Tenderloin 1 piece of trash at a time in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Gutierrez was given shelter that night and agreed to start his medication in the morning.

"It is a pilot program, so we're still fine tuning things, but we've had great success. In one month we had 300 prescriptions we were able to prescribe, nine people in rehab," said Douglas Liu, one of the night navigators.

The next morning, we went to the Adante Hotel, where Gutierrez was taken. There, he was assigned a case worker.

We were told, at the time, Gutierrez was out getting his new meds for his treatment.

"A person has to want help to get help," said Andrew Pittman, a case worker at the Adante.

MORE: Medical professionals trying to meet health needs of San Francisco's unhoused

According to the San Francisco Health Department, 27% of the Adante clients move on to a residential treatment program, while 24% continue with their medication at their shelter.

According to Pittman, the case says forcing anyone intro treatment is not the end game.

"Keeping people alive. That's our success," he said.

Another client, Wesley, has continued with his treatment for the past two months after leaving the Adante hotel.

Before moving to San Francisco from Virginia, he had been drug free for 14 years, then he discovered fentanyl.

"It's a never ending fight, you know. It's every day. I mean, so many days I want to give up and just...Being on the streets is easy. This is the hard part, you know, getting clean and doing the things I'm supposed to do. That's the hard part," Wesley said.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here