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.