Controversy Surrounds San Francisco’s Managed Alcohol Program For Homeless

San Francisco’s Department of Public Health is facing criticism for its pilot program that provides free alcohol to homeless alcoholics at taxpayer expense.

The “Managed Alcohol Program” which started with 10 beds during the COVID-19 pandemic has since been expanded into a 20-bed program operating out of a former hotel in Tenderloin with a $5 million annual budget.

Nurses provide clients with a motel room three meals a day and enough alcohol “to meet their addiction needs but keeping someone at a safe level of intoxication” according to Alice Moughamian the Nurse Manager of the program. The program aims to prevent potentially life-threatening effects of alcohol withdrawal such as seizures and injuries.

Critics argue that the government should be funding treatment and sobriety programs instead. “Are we just going to manage people’s addictions with our taxpayer dollars in perpetuity forever? It seems like that’s basically what we’re saying” said Tom Wolf who is in recovery for heroin addiction.

Even San Francisco Mayor London Breed has criticized the program saying in February that harm reduction was “not reducing harm” but “making things far worse.” However, San Francisco health officials say the program has saved $1.7 million over six months in reduced hospital visits and police calls made by participants who previously heavily relied on emergency services.