Union square

A billboard in Union Square denounces SF’s “outdoor drug markets”. He is placed there by families with children addicted to fentanyl

Families with children struggling with addiction or lost to overdose set up a colorful billboard in San Francisco’s Union Square shopping district on Monday, calling attention to “dirty and cheap fentanyl of the city and saying authorities should “shut down open-air drug markets.”

It’s the latest salvo from a group that has staged protests in the nearby Tenderloin – at the center of the crisis – and is now trying to get the attention, not just of San Francisco’s elected officials, but also of tourists, office workers and city visitors. hope to return to the area.

It comes weeks after the end of Mayor London Breed’s Tenderloin emergency, intended to curb an alarming spike in overdoses in the struggling neighborhood in recent years, many of which stem from the super-potent opioid fentanyl.

The billboard features a glowing nighttime photo of the Golden Gate Bridge with the message “Famous around the world for our brains, our beauty and, now, our cheap fentanyl” above the span along with the words “It’s time to shut down outdoor drug markets” below, along with the name and logo of the sponsor, Mothers Against Drug Deaths and its hashtag, #maddtoo.

Group co-founder Jacqui Berlinn, the Livermore mother of a homeless fentanyl addict who sometimes lives in the Tenderloin, said the billboard was intended to inform visitors that fentanyl had taken over the city and to pressure on city leaders, including Breed and the Board of Supervisors, to take action to end the sale and use of drugs in the open air.

Breed had promised to crack down on drug dealers and outdoor drug use and flood the police net as part of the emergency, declared in mid-December. But it’s only been a few weeks since more police arrived. While some residents and business owners say daytime drug use and sales have calmed down, they say that after dark, open-air drug markets pick up.

The Berlinn group raised $25,000 to display the billboard on the corner of Geary and Stockton streets, overlooking Union Square. He seeks to use tourism, a key to the city’s economy, as leverage to force the city to take a more aggressive approach to ending the open trade and use of fentanyl and other illegal drugs.

“We just want to discourage tourism until the city is able to get this under control, especially open drug markets,” Berlinn said.

The message she wants to convey to visitors to San Francisco: “Tourists, beware. You might come for a nice clam chowder and see some great views, but you’re also going to see needles on the ground, feces on the ground, outdoor drug markets, and very sick drug addicts.

Berlinn criticized Breed’s recent tourism promotion trip to Europe and the end of his declared state of emergency in the Tenderloin.

Police said they were trying to crack down on drug trafficking, but were understaffed. Breed touted his efforts to open more homeless housing and more addiction and mental health treatment beds over the past few years, including opening a liaison center at UN Plaza. to direct people on the street to services.

Breed said reviving San Francisco’s struggling tourism sector is key to maintaining the city’s financial health, and without a strong budget, the city can’t afford expensive programs to help people struggling with addiction. Before the pandemic, the city filled hotels, restaurants and its convention center with tourists from across the country and around the world.

But Berlinn argues that tourists “should probably visit another city, not San Francisco, right now because San Francisco should still be in a state of emergency.”

Mothers Against Drug Deaths is raising money, Berlinn said, for a possible international poster campaign carrying that message.

While the billboard targets tourists, Berlinn said the roughly 200-member group is trying to get the city to shut down the open trade in fentanyl and tolerance of the open sale and use of the drug, which she says is the real reason San Francisco’s economy is hurting.

She expects people to ask if the billboard and campaign will harm legitimate San Francisco businesses, which are not responsible for the crisis.

“No, outdoor drug markets are what’s hurting San Francisco’s economy,” she argued.

When Breed decided not to pursue the emergency, she acknowledged the condition of the net was “not what it should be, we know that, but it’s going to get better as we continue the pressure “. She added that her “aim is to improve conditions, but above all to improve the safety of the people who live and work there”.

Berlinn wants to keep the pressure on and said the group realizes the boldness of the billboard and its message.

“You could say we feel hopeless,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing this campaign.”

The billboard will be in place for a month.

Michael Cabanatuan (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ctuan

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Jacqui Berlinn’s city of residence.