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Posts Misidentify Site of Used Needle Pile in Homeless Camp


Quick Take

Posts circulating on social media show a pile of hypodermic needles and falsely identify the site as a homeless encampment in Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco. The photo was actually taken at a homeless camp cleanup in Washington state in 2017.


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Social media posts, amassing hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook, show a huge pile of used hypodermic needles collected during a cleanup and misidentify the location as a site in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district.

In one post, the caption falsely states: “These needles were picked up at a city park in San Francisco while cleaning up a homeless camp. This is Nancy Pelosi’s district! Don’t let the Democrats have control of our country or your state will be next!” Another post with a similar caption, also incorrectly attributing the scene to Pelosi’s district, asks viewers to “#pleasevoterepublican.”

The photo is actually from a 2017 needle cleanup in Snohomish County, Washington. The Daily Herald, a newspaper covering Everett and Snohomish County, wrote about the cleanup more than two years ago when a group of recovering addicts participated in the event at a homeless camp. The newspaper confirmed that the photo in the recent social media posts was taken at the October 2017 event in the south Everett area.

Pelosi represents California’s 12th congressional district in San Francisco, not Snohomish County, Washington. Moreover, in an email from Pelosi’s office, her press secretary informed us that protocol for San Francisco’s Recreation & Parks Department calls for used needles to be disposed in bio bins, not left loosely on a tarp, as it appears in the photo.

Large cities like San Francisco are frequently targeted in conservative social media posts for national problems such as homelessness and drug abuse. President Donald Trump himself often engages in the same behavior.

Last October the president tweeted, “I can’t believe that Nancy Pelosi’s District in San Francisco is in such horrible shape.” The previous month he also attacked San Francisco and Los Angeles for the homelessness problem in those cities, though earlier that day Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson had rejected California’s request for funding to fight the problem.

These are not partisan or local issues, but rather national problems. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently reported “every day, more than 130 people die in the United States after overdosing on Opioids.”

The drug problem is indeed acute in Pelosi’s district. Citing preliminary statistics from the city’s medical examiner’s office, the San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote that “Fentanyl and heroin overdoses in San Francisco more than doubled in 2019.”

Homelessness has also been a major issue in California and the city of San Francisco. HUD’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress said there are an estimated 567,715 homeless people in the United States, of which 151,278 —  more than 26 percent — reside in California. San Francisco ranked sixth in the nation for the largest number of people experiencing homelessness in 2019, according to a Forbes report.

The opioid crisis has become a bipartisan issue with politicians working across the aisle on legislation to combat the epidemic. Over 30 states have enacted laws limiting opioid prescriptions, and the Opioid Crisis Response Act passed Congress in 2018 with bipartisan support and signed into law by Trump.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

Sources

Hutton, Caleb and Diana Hefley, “Recovering addicts bag thousands of needles at Everett camp.” HeraldNet. 24 Oct 2017.

@realDonaldTrump “I can’t believe that Nancy Pelosi’s District in San Francisco is in such horrible shape that the City itself is in violation of many sanitary & environmental orders, causing it to owe the Federal Government billions of dollars – and all she works on is Impeachment…..” Twitter. 26 Oct 2019.

Dobuzinskis, Alex and Dan Whitcomb, “Trump says EPA to issue notice to San Francisco on homeless.” Reuters. 18 Sept 2019.

McCarthy, Niall, “The American Cities With the Highest Homeless Populations in 2019,” Forbes. 14 Jan 2020.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?” 4 Sept 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” Jan 2019.

Sernoffsky, Evan and John King, “Fentanyl, heroin overdoses in San Francisco more than doubled in 2019.” 21 Jan 2020.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.” Jan 2020.

Smith, Mitch. “What Do These Political Ads Have in Common? The Opioid Crisis.” The New York Times. 7 June 2018. 

National Conference of State Legislators, “Prescribing Policies: States Confront Opioid Overdose Epidemic.” 30 June 2019. 

Congress.gov. H.R.6 – SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. Accessed 14 Feb 2020.