London Breed was sworn into office on Wednesday as San Francisco’s first female African-American mayor, taking over for the late Ed Lee – and immediately facing a slew of financial and social problems plaguing the city.
Breed, a 43-year-old Democrat and former president of the city’s board of supervisors, has been tasked with tackling a mounting homelessness crisis, a lack of adequate housing as more and more people flood into the Bay Area and a growing divide between longtime residents and the recently arrived tech industry.
“We are not a tale of two cities, we are one San Francisco and as your mayor, I will do everything I can to unite us and bring us together for the purposes of doing what we need to get on the right track,” Breed said during her inauguration speech Wednesday afternoon.
The biggest obstacle Breed faces as mayor is combating the city’s rampant homeless problem.
City statistics shows that at any given time, there are 7,500 homeless living on the streets. The issue has been exacerbated by the country’s ongoing opioid epidemic.
Throughout the city, homeless people are seen daily shooting up heroin and smoking methamphetamine in broad daylight on downtown streets. According to reports from the city’s Department of Public Works, 10,000 needles were collected off the streets in March of 2017, compared with just 3,000 during the same time period the previous year.
The issue isn’t just affecting the city’s residents; it has also been blamed as a major detriment to the tourism industry.
Tourism is among the biggest industries in San Francisco – bringing in $9 billion a year in revenue, employing around 80,000 people and generating more than $725 million in local taxes. But the amount of homeless people in the city, especially in tourist-heavy areas around Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, has caused some visitors to rethink their travel plans.
“When these things leave, it affects all of us — the taxi, the hotel, the restaurant,” Hotel Council of San Francisco Executive Director Kevin Carroll told local media after a large trade show pulled out of the city due to those concerns. “We need to be concerned.”
To combat the homeless problem in San Francisco, Breed wants to, among other things, improve hospital and hospice care for the homeless, open safe injection sites for drug users, have medical teams on the streets deal with overdoses and construct permanent housing for the city’s homeless.
“There is nothing compassionate or safe about relegating people, particularly those suffering from mental health or addiction issues, to sleep on our streets,” Breed wrote in a piece on Medium.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.