New access to homeless shelters has been curtailed as of Monday, leaving street dwellers on the street. File photo, February 2016, by Joe Rivano Barros

Community members, homeless advocates and city leaders weighed in Thursday at City Hall  on legislation that would give homeless campers longer notice of impending camp removals and guarantee them shelter.

The hearing took place during the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.

While all agreed that tent encampments – some 80 of which have been mapped by the city’s newly established Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing and are subject to removal – are “unsustainable and undesirable,” residents and others are at odds on how to govern the process of clearing out the camps humanely while preventing campers from returning.

Countering a November ballot measure that would ban tents and give homeless campers just 24 hour warnings about camp removals, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced a measure in July that would provide the homeless with notice to pack up seven days before being forced to clear out of their camps.

Kim’s measure would also require the city to offer shelter services for a minimum of 90 days to those displaced. Her proposal is in an effort to transition encampment residents off the streets and into permanent housing.

However, after hearing from Sam Dodge, deputy director of the new department, Kim tabled consideration of the measure for the time being to give the department more time to assess best practices in addressing encampments.

Dodge said the department had its first success in dismantling an encampment near Islais Creek, placing some of its 50 residents into the city’s Navigation Center, and is in the middle of experimenting with different approaches such as providing campers with toilets and dumpsters.

Planning to focus on the Mission’s large scale homeless encampments next, Dodge told Kim that additional legislation dictating how to administer camp removals is not necessarily what is needed.  

“We don’t have the perfect prescription yet,” he said, adding that the department is taking its own steps towards fine tuning “a system.”

Still, the conversation shed light on the complexity of the issue of tent settlements and the varying needs of those forced to live in them and around them.

“Simply moving people out [of encampments] without giving them a place to go is not a solution – It doesn’t work,” said Mission supervisor David Campos, who spoke in support of guaranteeing housing for displaced campers. The Mission has been particularly affected by a swell in tent encampments that has left many of its housed residents frustrated.

“If you don’t give them a place to go they just go back to the same spot,” he said.

Campos blamed the neighborhood’s layout – a mix of residential and industrial buildings– and the recent development of other parts of city where “encampments could previously be” for making the Mission “ground zero” for tent settlements.

Some residents and business owner spoke to the urgency of dismantling encampments that currently occupy residential sidewalks and have cropped up next to local businesses.

“Please be realistic about the time frame,” said Gwen Kaplan, a representative of the Northeast Mission Business Association, calling the tent encampments that line 16th, Folsom, and Harrison streets “a very serious health and human safety issue.”

“A few weeks ago we counted 42 discarded needles on a walk around just one block – the tent encampment situation has to be ameliorated as quickly as possible,” she said.

Others criticized Kim’s measure for encouraging tents.

“The city should not be guaranteeing affordable housing just to anyone who sets up tents on our sidewalks,” said Patricia Aleman, director of the San Francisco Travel Association, adding that the measure would “incentivise more tents.”

But Kim fought back. “I don’t know where we expect to put them, if we expect them to disappear, vanish into thin air,” she countered, adding that the “only solution to homelessness is housing.”

Advocates for the homeless also stressed that the well-being of the homeless and the need for permanent and affordable housing must be at the center of any discussion surrounding the removal of encampments.

“For them, [the experience] is a thousand times worse than what myself, as a neighbor in the Mission, goes through in witnessing homeless people,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

Friedenbach stressed that thoughtful approaches to helping camp residents exit homelessness are a first step, and that permanently providing them with housing takes time.

“The reality is that when we are trying to resolve encampments we can’t move people quickly,” she said.

Social worker Colleen Rebecca said that part of the struggle in addressing encampments is fighting against the “myths and misinformation” surrounding homelessness.
“Camps are made of people,” she said. “Ignorance, intolerance and nasty public discourse like this hurts us just as much as the current state [of] not having enough resources to help the vast number of people who are suffering on our streets.”

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  1. I attended a meeting last week. Jane Kim was there putting on a dog and pony show. she even passed out leaflets of all the “good” she’s done in my district. SFPD captain Daryl Fong was there. Sam Dodge was there. what was accomplished – absolutely NOTHING. her great idea of putting porta potties out for these people is not helping anything. The other “great idea” of setting aside an area for the junkies, meth heads and crack smokers to be able to go to do their drugs is the most stupid idea ever. how is this dealing with any of these issues for your constituents, jane? There are real dangers out there (crime, as well as environmental) that my neighbors and i deal with every single day for the longest time. they all said we must work together. NO. As I see it, i pay taxes and they are on MY payroll. THEY need to deal with it. I’m not going to get to know my homeless neighbors. Yes that was suggested also. They suggested that we talk to our landlords to have them install lights and security cameras. Why are landlords and building owners supposed to shoulder this load? it doesn’t work anyway. crimes are being committed in broad daylight in areas with security cameras. Lots of passing the buck while having a hand out for more. I call SFPD sometimes 3 times a week or more, as do my neighbors. Nothing usually is accomplished. crime is all around, but they look the other way. a cop told me that they don’t usually make arrests because the DA won’t prosecute so we basically need to just accept things as they are, and “be patient” that it will change for the better. but you see, if i was running a chop shop, drugs and/or prostitution out of my home, I would be in jail right now. if you want real pictures and videos of what goes on and what my neighbors and i deal with, go to fb page “manpiles of SF” and “filthySF” on tumblr.

  2. The progressives sat on their hands for years until Lee augmented the two year old concentration of tents in Mission, Western SOMA and Showplace for the Superbowl and then dismantled the encampments. Only then did progressives react to the Mayor’s actions.

    We’ve seen this movie before. Aggressive Panhandling, Care not Cash, Sit/Lie. Every time that a contested candidate election is on the horizon, the Mayor and departments begin to stir up resident resentment over homelessness on which progressives have dropped the ball.

    The progressives, for their part, offer no substantive policy recommendations. They are content to be seen by their friends as taking the “correct” line. This do-nothing, posturing line is at odds with the sentiments of residents who want solutions.

    Thus, the progressives circle the wagons and line up the firing squad to go down while standing up for their agenda in a purely pro-forma manner. Candidate campaigns are dragged down by these wedges yet progressives consistently charge the red cape.

    There is nowhere near sufficient housing to navigate homeless people to from these centers. It is unconstitutional to control people’s freedom of movement.

    Building that housing into which people could be navigated would cost billions of dollars, none of which is forthcoming or viable. There is no guarantee that if those dollars suddenly materialized that the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Council of Community Housing Organizations, the nonprofit affordable housing racket, would actually spend those dollars on homeless housing. The corruption would not allow solutions to the homeless who are too valuable as political gold to let go.

    How about the City focus on confining homeless encampments to non-residential, light-industrial frontages that are not active and provide hygienic services, water/lava mae, laundry, toilet, trash service, commensurate with a small town living on the sidewalks? Imagine the City or nonprofits providing actual real life services to people for a change?

    This would allow each side to maintain its trophy homeless for political purposes, so that the conservatives could rail against the slouches while the progressives could pin badges of honor to each others’ cloaks for standing up for “the most vulnerable” amongst us (and say “and in the City of Saint Francis!” unironically) while insulating residents from the downsides of the encampments.

    1. ” It is unconstitutional to control people’s freedom of movement.”

      We don’t want to control their Freedom of Movement, we want to control their miguided entitlement to camp/stay anywhere they want. BIG Difference. It’s not constitutional to claim public land as private by making it your home. It’s not the wild west anymore grandpa.

  3. Once again Campos champions crime and drug abuse while offering no solutions continuing his streak of ineffectual policy that has seen a rampant growth in criminality.

    1. Of course he does… He has no clue what goes on in the Mission and is incapable of making the right decisions to clean up the Mission.

    2. Supervisor Campos does not deserve your insults or blame. We all do. This is a societal problem. There is not one thing (or ten things) that will solve the problems you note.

      There is one thing that could quickly assist the transition for people living in tents to housing and get the encampments off of the streets to placate neighbors. There are many large, vacant, asphalted lots in San Francisco controlled by the Port of SF, the SFPUC, the SFPD and other public entities that could be designated for tents and other small structures. There could be security, central bathrooms and showers, and cooking facilities. A navigation center on site could assist with the transition to shelter beds, job training, and employment and get others the proper medical, mental health, and addiction services they need.

      1. Mark, do you think if Rudy Guliani were in charge istead of Campos things would look the same? Leadership matters.

        In addition, Campos has opposed thousands of housing units which included hundreds of below market rate housing in his tenure. Had these been built, hundreds of poor/low income people would not have been displaced. He is directly responsible for people not having homes and putting more folks on the streets.

  4. Folks better get ready for November tent ballott on tent removal… Its going to be overwhelmingly approved and show just how frustrated Mission residents and the rest of San Fran are at supervisors unwillingness to solve this issue in a timely manner.. The tents are going to be removed one way or another. The Mission can no longer play nice and be the dumping ground for the rest of San Fran and the bay area.