The City of San Francisco is handing out bottles of beer, glasses of wine and shots of vodka to homeless alcoholics – and spending $5m a year on the program. 

The alcoholic drinks are served by nurses as part of the city’s ‘managed alcohol program’, which has been running for four years, as a way of taking care of vulnerable homeless people. 

The program is designed to curb the amount of alcohol homeless people drink. It still allows them some, but in a more managed way, in the hope of curbing their addiction in a controlled manner. 

Nurses assess patients and typically serve them the equivalent of 1-2 drinks between three and four times a day — handing out either 1.7 ounces of vodka or liquor (about a shot), 5 ounces of wine (1 glass) or 12 ounces of beer – about three-quarters of a pint. 

Experts involved in the program say that it has actually helped to keep homeless alcoholics out of hospitals, jails, and even from dying. 

San Francisco's managed alcohol program provides beer and vodka shots to homeless alcoholics as part of a harm reduction strategy and operates out of this former hotel

San Francisco’s managed alcohol program provides beer and vodka shots to homeless alcoholics as part of a harm reduction strategy and operates out of this former hotel

The program, running for four years, aims to curb excessive drinking among the homeless while preventing hospitalizations and deaths

The program, running for four years, aims to curb excessive drinking among the homeless while preventing hospitalizations and deaths

Despite criticisms about enabling addiction, officials argue it saves money by reducing emergency services usage. Pictured, a homeless man is seen on the sidewalk

Despite criticisms about enabling addiction, officials argue it saves money by reducing emergency services usage. Pictured, a homeless man is seen on the sidewalk

Before the program was set up, those who drank alcohol to excess were among the city’s highest users of the emergency services. 

The program has doubled in size since it began in 2020. While at first there were 10 beds available for those suffering from alcoholism, there are now 20 beds available  on the premises of a disused hotel in the Tenderloin District. 

But it comes at a cost, with the city pouring money into the program to the tune of $5 million a year as nurses serve shots of vodka and beer several times a day, based on ‘patients’ specific healthcare plans. 

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The focus is not so much on insuring those taking part become completely sober, but improving their overall health drop by drop. 

While the program may be raising spirits among the homeless community, some residents appear to have learned of the city’s efforts only recently and believe the taxpayer funded program to be money down the drain. 

Professor at the UCSF School of Nursing, Shannon Smith-Bernardin, helped set up the program in San Francisco

Professor at the UCSF School of Nursing, Shannon Smith-Bernardin, helped set up the program in San Francisco

Adam Nathan, CEO of an AI company and chair of the Salvation Army San Francisco’s advisory board noted that drugs are not being handed out to drug addicts and so questions why would alcohol be given to alcoholics. 

‘The whole thing is very odd to me and just doesn’t feel right. Providing free drugs to drug addicts doesn’t solve their problems. It just stretches them out. Where’s the recovery in all of this?’, Nathan posted to X.

The program’s thinking is based around ‘harm reduction’ which looks to cut the negative health effects from alcohol and drug use rather than the complete cessation of such vices. 

Homelessness and deaths from overdoses have plagued the city in years gone by, but critics argue such programs only allow addictions to continue. 

The Salvation Army, which pushes for the complete abstinence of alcohol, has criticized the city for spending public funds on the initiative.

Even San Francisco’s own mayor, London Breed appears to be at odds with her own public health department, believing the technique of harm reduction was not actually reducing the harm, but making things far worse.

‘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, to the San Francisco Chronicle. ‘I think we should be spending that money on detox and recovery.’

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But a professor at the UCSF School of Nursing, Shannon Smith-Bernardin, who helped set up the program in San Francisco explained how the aim is to stabilize the amount of alcohol being used by the homeless people ‘so they’re not binge drinking or stopping drinking and having seizures and then … start figuring out what’s next.’ 

Aside from pouring the pints, and serving the shots, the program also allows those taking part to receive medication and therapy in a further drive to reduce the alcohol cravings.

Nathan has brought the program on his social media feed earlier this week, posting details of what he discovered after walking into the former hotel where the scheme operated. He was appalled by what he had seen.

‘I’m no doctor or “expert” on issues of drug policy. But I am a taxpayer. When did this Managed Alcohol Program get approved? Where were the public hearings? Why is it hidden away in an old hotel? Who approved a $2 million budget for it?’ Nathan asked on X.

Even San Francisco's progressive mayor, London Breed appears to be at odds with her own public health department, believing the technique of harm reduction was not actually reducing the harm, but making things far worse

Even San Francisco’s progressive mayor, London Breed appears to be at odds with her own public health department, believing the technique of harm reduction was not actually reducing the harm, but making things far worse

‘While there have been some limited studies showing some promise, I have to point out a couple of things that troubled me,’ Nathan continued.

‘1. The Department of Public Health is spending $2 million of taxpayer dollars to give free alcohol to mostly homeless people struggling with alcoholism. 

‘2. It’s set up so people in the program just walk in and grab a beer, and then another one. All day,’ he explained. 

Public health officials have defended the program stressing that Nathan’s tweets only served to mislead the public and misrepresent the program. 

Quite apart from wasting public money, public health officials in San Francisco stress the manage alcohol program has in fact, save the city $1.7 million over a period of six months in what would have otherwise been emergency room visits or hospital stays. 

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Officials say that visits to the city’s sobering center fell by 92 percent while emergency room visits dropped by over 70 percent.

It is unclear if those who arrive for free booze are breathalyzed first to see if they’ve been drinking on their own, meaning they could potentially be too drunk for the freebie.  

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