San Francisco Mayor London Breed attracted attention with her recent state of emergency declaration over crime and disorder in the city's Tenderloin district, but a program she launched last May that has had time to demonstrate its effectiveness has been praised by many residents for keeping the streets safe and clean, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Breed set aside $8.8 million over two years to field "ambassadors" to conduct street outreach, while also putting more police on the streets. Tenderloin residents say they haven't noticed more police, but the neon-green-and-black-vested ambassadors, employed by Urban Alchemy, have built relationships that have kept the streets calmer.
Starting in June and ramping up in August, Urban Alchemy ambassadors have flooded an area of more than two dozen blocks for 12 hours every day, with about 75 on a shift. They say their focus is building relationships to help passersby, de-escalate mental health episodes or violence, stop littering and defecation, and ask people who are homeless not to block sidewalks and those dealing or using drugs to not do so in public spaces. Longtime Tenderloin advocate Randy Shaw called them a "godsend." But the program has drawn criticism from some homeless people and advocates, pointing to the challenges of trying to improve conditions while still working on long-term solutions. Supervisor Matt Haney, who lives in the Tenderloin, said practitioners have “absolutely made a positive difference,” but said they often just tell people to move while not being able to offer many connections to long-term care. “Ultimately we have to address the broader addiction epidemic, the deep poverty in the neighborhood, and ensure that people have access to care and that we have more solutions to address the drug dealing,” he said.