San Francisco Embraces Sobriety
The city is finally providing sober living for recovering addicts
Fourteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts sat in a small, windowless room on the underground floor of the Drake Hotel. The Drake is located in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, a sacrifice zone where the city has attempted to concentrate and contain its blight and misery.
The death and suffering in the small, dense, seedy neighborhood can shock the conscience; last November, paramedics were dispatched to a Tenderloin apartment to resuscitate a 9-month-old infant poisoned by fentanyl. The baby died after being transported to the hospital.
Sitting at the front of the underground room was Richard Beale, a tall, middle-aged black man in a three-piece suit with a handkerchief in his front pocket and a fedora on his head. After delivering a short lecture on the stages of addiction (experimental, recreational, habitual, abuse, dependency) and the stages of recovery (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance), Beale asked the attendees to go around the room and describe how each of them was doing.
“I’m here,” said one. “Better than being on the streets.”
Another said he was soon going to see his 9-year-old daughter, who he hadn’t seen “in a while.”
A third man announced that he was getting ready to go back to Chicago to see his mother for the first time in 8 years. “She deserves that,” he said.
The Drake is a Single Room Occupancy hotel — a residence for the indigent and, often, drug-addicted. The men and women in the room lived there, and were in a recovery program called New Horizons, led by Beale. One had pink hair, another had a neck tattoo. Several were transgender. One slumped in his chair in a backward baseball hat, another kept his head tucked into his hoodie. They looked bored but attentive. The discussion in the room was calm and orderly. Sobriety and the recovery program had brought a measure of structure and peace to their chaotic lives.
The Drake is transitional housing. Its tenants are expected to eventually move into a more permanent residence. But in California, that means moving into a building with people who are still using drugs and alcohol. In 2016, California passed a law mandating that any facility for housing the homeless that receives state funds must adhere to a “Housing First” doctrine, which bars them from requiring sobriety or participation in a recovery program as a condition for obtaining housing. At a national level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the same of those it funds.
The idea behind these rules is to remove any barriers that stand in the way of bringing homeless people indoors. But for those in recovery, that has meant effectively immersing them in an active drug scene, putting them squarely into a social situation that practically guarantees relapse.
But, for the first time, the people in this room had a better option.