Pop-up Overdose Prevention Tent an Act of Defiance and Love

December 14, 2023

On International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, in an act of civil disobedience, a small group of San Francisco activists opened a pop-up overdose prevention tent in the Tenderloin neighborhood. At least two overdoses were reversed.

The volunteers wore matching shirts that stated, “Concerned Public Response” on the front and “Can’t Stand By As People Die” on the back.

The Filter video above, “Overdose Prevention Centers for the Community We Love,” features some of the people involved in this action. They did it out of frustration, they explain, that the unofficial overdose prevention center (also known as safe consumption sites, or SCS) at the Tenderloin Center was shut down by Mayor London Breed last year.

In just 11 months, staff there reversed 333 overdoses. In the first seven months of this year, there were 473 overdose deaths in San Francisco. Breed has blood on her hands.

“The message to the community with the pop-up was: It doesn’t matter, we are going to be here for you.”

“When it comes to saving lives, it should be easier than this,” said Seth, one of the pop-up tent volunteers. “The message to the community with the pop-up was: It doesn’t matter, we are going to be here for you. We are going to make this happen, even though it’s in a legal gray zone.”

San Francisco harm reductionists have been trying to open SCS for years. But they’re dealing with a wildly erratic, “tough-on-crime” mayor, who one minute expresses support for the facilities but then shuts down the only one operating and calls for forcing people into treatment, plus more police and punishment.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has blood on his hands, too. He vetoed legislation that would have allowed San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles to open SCS. He then announced a plan to deploy California Highway Patrol Officers and the National Guard to crack down on fentanyl sales in San Francisco.

Arresting people who use or sell drugs has never worked anywhere, and is disastrous to efforts to keep people alive.

“Unfortunately, drug use is being viewed as a moral and political issue and it shouldn’t be.”

Against this dystopian backdrop of the failed drug war, the activists felt compelled to act.

Asked what it would take to open legal SCS, Seth said, “To be honest, I don’t know what it’s going to take. I’ve been advocating for overdose prevention centers for years now, as have many others. Unfortunately, drug use is being viewed as a moral and political issue and it shouldn’t be.”

Eli also participated in the pop-up event, and assisted in reversing two overdoses. He believes that the sites are harm reduction in its purest form: “It’s meeting people where they’re at, and providing a space where they can be safe and they can take care of what they need to without judgment.”

The activists care deeply about a community that has been increasingly targeted and scapegoated in the Bay Area. Cleo has been a harm reduction worker for over a decade. He was involved in the pop-up because, “I love the work and since there are no safe consumption sites to work at, why not give back to the community and volunteer? If they have another one, I would do it again. We want to take care of the community we love.” 



Helen Redmond

Helen is Filter's senior editor and a multimedia journalist. She is on the methadone, vaping and nicotine train. Helen is also a filmmaker. Her two documentaries about methadone are Liquid Handcuffs and Swallow THIS. As an LCSW, she has worked with people who use drugs for over two decades. Helen is an adjunct assistant professor and teaches a course about the War on Drugs at NYU. She lives in Harlem.

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