She failed to save daughter from fentanyl. Year later, she remains stuck in SF

Dealers clustered at Seventh and Mission streets, openly selling drugs. At their feet, people smoked fentanyl off tinfoil while others nodded off. Tents dotted the sidewalks. Piles of food scraps, trash and feces filled the gutter. Pedestrians, including a woman pushing a baby in a stroller, nearly swerved into traffic on Seventh Street to get past.

Laurie Steves, 57, stood amid the commerce and the chaos, waiting.

Her daughter, 35-year-old Jessica Didia, whose addiction to opioids has shattered her life, lives at the corner in a large gray Coleman tent placed under the awning of the shuttered Good Hotel. The hotel’s website still brags that its location “brings the best of the city to your doorstep,” but if that was ever the case, it sure isn’t now.

Laurie, a nursing home cook outside Seattle, had flown to San Francisco the day before — Jan. 2 — after learning Jessica had been hospitalized for a disorder that caused recurring seizures, just as
a fierce storm
was barreling down on the city. She wanted to get her daughter inside.

But she knew her mission was a long shot. She needed to go step by step. First, she’d settle for taking her daughter for a walk.

Laurie Steves watches as her daughter Jessica Didia looks through drug paraphernalia in Victoria Manalo Draves Park in the South of Market.

Laurie Steves watches as her daughter Jessica Didia looks through drug paraphernalia in Victoria Manalo Draves Park in the South of Market.

Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

“Come on, Jess!” she kept hollering through the zipped-up tent. Jessica would yell back that she was getting ready. But then she’d shout that she couldn’t find her shoes or her pipe. We kept waiting.

Laurie and Jessica appeared in this column a year ago
as the city’s fentanyl epidemic exploded. The story of a mom’s desperate, failed attempt to rescue her daughter from homelessness and addiction to a drug now ravaging the country resonated with San Franciscans. Readers shared their frustration that the city seemed so ill-equipped to help people like Jessica even as their lives unravel in full view.

Laurie had moved to San Francisco in spring 2021, determined to save her daughter after losing her 25-year-old son, Zachary, to an overdose. But the three-month attempt fell short. Laurie couldn’t make it in wildly expensive San Francisco, and Jessica made it clear she wanted no help. They spent much of their time together arguing, and Laurie left, dejected. A brief visit in November 2021 proved no more fruitful.

Fourteen months later, we connected again, and I found myself entertaining fresh hope that something would change. But nothing has improved — for Laurie, for Jessica and for San Francisco itself.

Jessica’s day-to-day life on the edge — exposed not only in this column but in frequent videos posted to Twitter by business owner Adam Mesnick, who has sought to help her — exemplifies so many of the city’s problems and tensions:
the overdose crisis,

the pull of fentanyl,
legal battle over tent encampments,
the plight of a pandemic-battered downtown and city leadership seemingly unable to make headway on any of it.

While Laurie and Jessica’s lives remain stuck, San Francisco over the past 14 months has been volatile. Just after the first column ran, Mayor London Breed announced that “the bullshit that has destroyed our city” was about to end and declared
an emergency in the Tenderloin.
But she failed to quickly and meaningfully improve police staffing in the neighborhood, and the emergency order ended. The streets remain chaotic,
especially at night,
so much so that neighborhood merchants have demanded that
San Francisco pay back their 2022 taxes.

Breed opened the Tenderloin Center in United Nations Plaza, billing it as a place for people like Jessica to access the help they need. She didn’t advertise that it included a makeshift overdose-prevention site where people could smoke fentanyl under supervision on the patio. In early December,
Breed closed the center,
and she hasn’t replaced it with the
real, clinical supervised-consumption site she promised.

The mayor has opened more permanent supportive housing and treatment slots, but the system remains byzantine and hard to access. Outraged voters recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin in June, partly over what they saw as his disinterest in addressing fentanyl markets, and new District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has had only minimal success jailing dealers.