Coronavirus crisis: Here's why SF officials are giving homeless alcohol, tobacco

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Areas like the Tenderloin have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

San Francisco city leaders and health officials say in order to increase the number of guests who stay in isolation and quarantine, they are meeting homeless people where they are.

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In some cases, that includes the distribution of some alcohol and tobacco to those in quarantine.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health tells ABC7 News the alcohol and tobacco is funded by private donations. Also that DPH staff store and administer the substances under the guidance of licensed physicians.

"Our behavioral health experts are offering services every day, medication assisted treatment including nicotine and opiate replacement, behavioral health counseling and in cases where people decide that they are going to continue to use, our focus is using the best evidence to help people manage their addictions," said Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco's Public Health Director.

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DPH tells ABC7 News that in a few cases, DPH staff have helped patients buy their own medical cannabis but that they do not facilitate purchases of recreational cannabis. Also that any staff member who does not wish to distribute these substances to guests may opt out of doing so.

No "safe injection" or "supervised consumption" is part of the isolation and quarantine sites according to DPH.

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott says police are enforcing drug laws in the Tenderloin, where some have been taking advantage of those who are vulnerable.

"We've made arrests in encampments we've seen people go in with bags of drugs and distribute them to others to sell in these encampments and we've arrested those people. We've confiscated their money, we've confiscated their drugs and we will continue to do that."

DPH says the distribution of alcohol and tobacco to those in quarantine is not unique to San Francisco.

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