BART Plazas, Homelessness: Thinking Longer-Term

16th Street Mission BART plaza. Photo by Lynne Shallcross

16th Street Mission BART plaza. Photo by Lynne Shallcross

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Fifteen homeless men and women who were part of an encampment on Division Street got city-supported hotel rooms last month.

In addition, two city officials are trying to align the 16th Street BART plazas with a more comprehensive community court where offenders ticketed at the plazas for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies can connect with social services.

These moves are elements of a strategy to both reduce homelessness in the Mission District and employ longer-term solutions to clean up the 16th Street BART plazas. Some homeless individuals living on Division Street also spent time at the plazas. Up until the housing placements, police tried to discourage the encampment by disbanding it, only to have it reappear a few blocks away.

“There isn’t one solution,” said David Campos, who represents District 9 on the city’s Board of Supervisors. “I think you’ve got to try different things and you’ve got to work with different agencies to make it happen.”

In part, these efforts have been guided by a report released in September by BART and the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team (SF HOT). Those who conducted the study interviewed homeless individuals at the 16th Street BART plazas between March and June and discovered that some were also part of the Division Street encampment.

Information from the study, along with recommendations from police and the Homeless Outreach Team, helped decide which 15 people would be moved to stabilization rooms last month, said Bevan Dufty, the director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE SF) in the mayor’s office.

A combination of factors led to those 15 being chosen, including medical and mental health issues, length of homelessness and substance abuse issues. Possessions, pets, partners or other elements that would make it difficult for individuals to move into a shelter were also taken into consideration, Dufty said.

When people move to the stabilization rooms, located in single-room occupancy hotels, they must participate in intensive case management, according to Dufty. This includes drug treatment, employment assistance and permanent housing assistance.

“Right now, because of the housing market being so challenging in San Francisco, the average stay [in a stabilization room] is somewhere between seven to nine months,” Dufty said.

The city has 250 stabilization rooms now and plans to open 30 more by the beginning of the year. At least 15 of those 30 beds will be dedicated to homeless individuals living in Golden Gate Park, while the rest will be filled on a case-by-case basis, Dufty said.

The city also has 1,145 shelter beds, and 24 more will be added when a new LGBT shelter opens on South Van Ness Avenue and 21st Street before the end of the year.

The BART outreach study at the 16th Street plazas found that loitering, sleeping, selling drugs, using alcohol/drugs, solicitation and using the plazas as toilets accounted for almost a third of the activity during non-commute hours.

To reduce this, Campos and Dufty are hoping to move the 16th Street BART plazas under the jurisdiction of the Community Justice Center, a court program on Polk Street that includes social services such as drug treatment and mental health programs.

The Community Justice Center is still considering the proposition, but Dufty said that if it happens, it would represent an improvement for the neighborhood because the court is more immediate and more comprehensive.

The court is modeled on accountability and following through with services, Dufty said. Moreover, there’s more immediacy for those cited with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies because individuals who are ticketed have a week to appear before the judge at this court versus the normal six weeks, he said.

Although putting 15 people into stabilization rooms hardly reduces the estimated 4,315 individuals living on the streets of San Francisco, Dufty sees the move as a longer-term solution.

Of the 30 people who were housed when a fence went up at a homeless encampment at Fifth and King earlier this year, only one person has gone back to the streets, Dufty said. It’s been a few weeks since the 15 homeless men and women were moved off Division and into rooms, and Dufty said the encampment had not reappeared.

Only two people were camped at Division on a recent morning this month.

The site has been an ongoing problem for a few reasons, Dufty said. First, he said, it’s an appealing location because the freeway provides shelter from wind and rain.

Second, he said, it’s where the border lies between the San Francisco Police Department’s Mission and Southern stations.

Complaints from residents near the dividing line, he said, can lead to the homeless individuals being, in a sense, pushed from side to side. “Our goal is really to try and help people exit homelessness and not just be moved around,” Dufty said.

26 Comments

  1. John

    Throwing help at these people tends to achieve nothing but attract far more of them to follow in their path. That’s a big part of why SF is a mecca for them in the first place, and we’ve all heard the stories of homeless people elsewhere being put on a bus here.

    The best bet for improving the BART plazas is large-scale capital investment such as currently proposed for 16th and Mission. Such developments spin off higher tax revenues and some of that can be used to divert these people to more suitable places.

    • Mary

      More suitable places? Such as . . .?

      • John

        Mary, I’m not familiar enough with all parts of the city, let alone the Bay Area, to definitively say where the optimal location might be for some type of homeless encampment.

        The south-east part of the city appears, to a casual observer, to be the least developed and have the most under-utilized land. There’s a large unused plot right by Bayshore CalTrain station, for instance, which is very possibly government property anyway. Or other locations along CalTrain or the 3rd Street streetcar route.

        Or perhaps a deal could be done with Oakland, since they have financial issues but lots of spare land and unused buildings. We could pay them a block grant in return for housing them somewhere in West Oakland.

        • kill the poor

          The old disposable people and enlightened community spirit leads to problems arguments.

          Discredited and hateful.

          Why don’t we build a soylent green factory on some of your “under-utilized” land?

          • John

            Mary asked where a good location might be for housing the homeless. I came up with a few ideas. What ideas do you have?

        • Save 16th Street BART

          Two months ago I met a Japanese tourist who had just emerged from 16th Street BART and seen the row of shopping carts full of junk and about ten people sitting on an abutment bordering Wells Fargo who always look like they just got out of Folsom Prison, and the first thing she said to me was, “I want to see a place that’s safe and clean”. Even though I love The Mission, I re-entered BART with her and took her to Union Square.

          A month ago the police cleared out the shopping carts and the loiterers and have kept them out with an all-day presence that starts early every morning, for which I salute them.

          • John

            The cleanup of Times Square in NYC, which for a long time was as bad as 16th and Mission but on a larger scale, taught us that only two things can cure the malaise:

            1) Zero tolerance of the smallest infractions – the “broken windows” method of law enforcement. And

            2) Large-scale capital investment. Tinkering and papering over the cracks doesn’t work. The blight needs to be physically excised.

    • Susanna

      I agree with John. The situation at 16th and Mission (a major transportation hub) is becoming worse with more crime, more homeless, filth and total chaos. I feel unsafe using that BART station, so I tend to drive my car to avoid the situation. As much as many Mission residents do not like the idea of development on that corner, I strongly believe it will allow for some good change there, creating a safe and enjoyable place for us all. I don’t have answers for the homeless situation and hope the City can come up with better solutions. But seeing the filth, crime and decay on that corner in this beautiful City and great Mission Community is an absolute shame. We ALL deserve better.

    • JM

      I agree! Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

    • marcos

      People stay homeless here because it does not freeze.

      Market rate housing does not cover its freight, not for infrastructure, not for city services. It is a lie, that the Planning Department has studies that disprove, that new housing generates tax dollars that can be used to back fill the service deficit.

      • John

        It doesn’t freeze in San Jose or Oakland either.

        Your other assertion is false. Those who pay taxes always pay more than they take out, if only because so many people pay no tax at all, and so the burden of taxation falls on the rest of us.

  2. Bob

    Yes, hopefully the large new building proposed for this corner can move forward quickly. It would make a huge difference in the neighborhood.

  3. Cash

    They should put signs up in Michigan and Alabama saying free hotel rooms and medical care in San Francisco. Apply with Bevan Duffty with a telephone number. Maybe someone could build a smartphone app to make it a more seamless transition.

  4. Pamela

    Like mid-Market, this area will be greatly improved, upgraded with condos being built at that location. 16th & Mission St is the garbage dump of SF. Disgusting that this type of behavior has been tolerated for as long as it has.

    • Mark

      Obviously you haven’t been to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant, Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square, for that matter where you can really see some of the city’s most exclusive garbage.

  5. seth

    for those who don’t think we should provide these services for the homeless – what is a better solution? If you don’t feel that providing an alternative to the streets is a good option, what is? throwing them in jail? being super-mean so they leave?

    sounds like John wants to build some slums in the SE corner of the city and push all the homeless people there. i’m sure that would be just a terrific solution John, thanks for the input. (sarcasm alert – this is the most absurd thing i’ve heard all day)

    • John

      Seth, If you are asking me whether I think it is worthwhile to consider centralizing help and support for the homeless in one suitable location, then I do. I said nothing about slums – in fact it could be a new, suitable custom-built facility.

      If you are asking me whether I think it is a good idea to have the homeless urinating and doing drugs out in the open in many residential areas of the city, then I do not.

      If you are asking me whether I support Wiener’s law to ban them from sleeping in our parks, then I do.

      And if you asking me whether SF providing more help and services to the homeless than other places can be counter-productive because it just brings in an ever-increasing number of them, then I do.

      We can’t save everyone.

      • Susanna

        I agree with John and don’t think any of us want to throw the homeless in jail (but maybe the criminals there). Seth do you have some good solutions? I’m not attempting to be sarcastic. I would just like to know what they are. As a 20 year resident (2 blocks from 16th & Mission) I have spent countless hours working with the community to make that area a safer place…it’s only become worse and I have given up. As a woman, I have been threatened by the inebriated (daily), chased, spit on; I’ve witnessed countless of innocent pedestrians being assaulted and am well aware of all the shootings that have taken place there day and night. I’m just wondering if you, yourself, are content with the environment there. Would you be OK for it to continue like this, and perhaps get worse? Just curious. Thanks for your input.

  6. Mark

    If “loitering, sleeping, selling drugs, using alcohol/drugs, solicitation and using the plazas as toilets” accounts for a third of the activity at the 16th BART station during “non-commute hours”, what other activities consume the other 66%? Dancing? Reading? Entrepreneurship?

  7. Bob

    Thinking longer term, there is simply no need for these BART plazas on Mission Street. They will always be a magnet for loitering and crime. It seems much better to build over the plazas completely with 10-15 stories of market rate housing and keep a couple of simple stairway and escalator exits for the station. Watch the neighborhood improve immediately.

    • John

      Bob, I had heard somewhere that there is a problem developing the air rights over BART stations. Something to do with the original charter of BART and how it was approved. Anyone know the details?

      That said, Ashby BART was recently developed over, as is Montgomery BART station. So that cannot be inviolate.

      Incorporating the station into a new development, as is routine in NYC and other countries, seems highly desirable on 16th and 24th given the current state of them. It’s not like they can currently be used as recreational space anyway. It’s the sort of place you walk quickly by, avoiding eye contact, and hoping nobody harasses or hustles you.

      • Zoltan

        I don’t know for sure about the station plazas, but I do know that the BART lines that run underground in berkeley are not designed to take much load over them, which is why they were built as cut-and-cover tunnels under streets and under Ohlone park. These areas can’t be developed without significant engineering to the BART infrastructure below. It could be a much more complicated issue than just building on top.

        • Anna

          ” not designed to take much load over them” -
          Interesting. Is there an “Ask BART” online presence, that we could ask, about estimating the cost of shoring up the station areas, so there could be development immediately adjacent to or above them? North Berkeley especially needs a commercial presence; an above-BART coffeehouse please.
          (As for the rest of the route, I think it’s good as is, to keep as a greenway.)

  8. JLS

    This article has some comprehensive info in it…but remember, BART plazas are public spaces for everyone. The folks who have hung out here for years, whether “loitering, drinking” or just merely talking with friends, are not all homeless. Many, in fact, have homes – in the local SROs or small apartments.

    The folks who were encamped by Duboce and Division streets involve one set of issues.
    But many of the folks who used to hang out at the plaza until the police presence actually live on that block.

    The SROs and small apartments often don’t permit visitors, don’t have living rooms or open spaces, so the plaza serves as a public space to share.

    Now what goes on there is another issue – and I don’t think police harassment is the answer.
    I’ve had many friends harassed – even a friend pushed over by a police officer just for riding his skateboard there.

    Community liaisons like those at Civic Center or Union Square, coupled with police observance, can assure that crime is tackled.

    Please don’t look to displacement and harassment as the solution.

    • missionite

      The glass towers are not the solutions. Mid market has not solved the problem for the homeless or any other development. Just pushes to another location.

      • John

        Displacing a problem from your neighborhood to some other place where the problem will cause less harm IS a solution, if no other solution exists.

        And mid-Market is already better than it was, thanks to the Twitter effect.

        If we gradually up-zone and upgrade our neighborhoods, that is progress. Accepting the current situation is not a viable option.

Comments are closed.