Community organizer Adriana Camarena addressed community members at meeting held to address homeless encampments in the Mission. Photo by Laura Waxmann

Community members and homeless advocates frustrated over dozens of tents that have popped up in the Mission District shouted down city and police officials on Wednesday during a discussion of a new plan to tackle homeless encampments in the neighborhood.

“We had encampments catch on fire right on my street. After living here all these years, I’ve seen things really get ugly,” said Gilles Combet, who lives on Shotwell Street between 16th and 17th streets and has voiced concern of an encampment there for years. “We are letting people live without bathrooms, without showers, with nothing at all – that’s wrong.”

Some 60 people filled the theater of the Oberlin Dance Collective at 17th and Shotwell streets to voice their concerns over what they called the “crisis” unfolding on their streets that has been neglected by local leadership at a town hall meeting hosted by the dance company.

Mission District Supervisor David Campos used the meeting to update the community on the city’s steps in assisting the some 102 people who currently live in encampments in the northeastern areas of the neighborhood. Campos promised on Monday that all of the homeless encampments in the neighborhood would be dismantled within four months.

But when city officials attempted to outline their new plan to target and clear encampments to move homeless residents to shelter beds, they were criticized by advocates who said the city does not have enough housing for the 3,500 people on the streets on any given night.

“Can you talk about housing and the fact that there are zero units for single, adult homeless people?” said Laura Guzman, director of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, to Campos.

The meeting grew increasingly contentious as others challenged a member of the recently launched Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing on its success with moving the homeless out of tents and into supportive housing.

Emily Cohen, a spokesperson for the new department, said that it was successful last month in clearing out an estimated 60 person tent encampment near Islais Creek.

“What was the number of people who actually got into housing?” one audience member wanted to know.

Cohen said that “close to 20 placements”  were made between the Navigation Center and other shelters. “It’s not everyone…But it’s certainly more than when you just go in and sweep.”

Homeless residents are given up to a month’s notice by city staff and provided with services — like help getting ID or health check-ups — before being told to move along, according to the head of the Department of Homelessness.

The department will go encampment by encampment and move residents into the Navigation Center.

Because the city only has some 1,300 shelter beds, city staff will be going through the list of encampments city-wide and only tell people to leave a block if they are offered a shelter bed or spot at the 75-bed Navigation Center.

Another attendee who claimed to have been waitlisted for a spot at the Navigation Center — the city’s flagship homeless shelter at 16th and Mission streets — for some five months said that the promise of placement there is not a viable solution for everyone.

“When you talk about it like it’s a real solution for people, I feel that you’re not being very honest about that implication,” the woman said to Cohen.

Cohen countered that the department is in the process of expanding its shelter capacity by opening additional Navigation Centers throughout the city and is currently coordinating all city agencies involved with camp removals – from Public Works to the Health Department and Police Department – to develop a plan for each camp.

“We want [an assessment] of the needs of everyone in the encampments, an assessment of our resources, to make the best matches possible,” said Cohen, adding that large encampments in the Mission will be dismantled by October 5. “We don’t want this to be a surprise to anyone.”

But hours before the meeting, residents at one of the first Mission encampments to be cleared out near 19th and Folsom streets were confused about the process.

At least one person there has accepted placement at the city’s Navigation center while others said that they have not yet been seen by the department’s new Encampment Resolution Team, which is tasked with preparing the camp residents for the removal of their tents and providing them with services.

The Encampment Resolution Team began offering services residents of an encampment near 19th and Folsom streets last week. Photo by Laura Waxmann

“Yesterday I got interviewed by the navigation center and they told me it would be at least a week or two,” said the man who gave his name as “Dojo.”

But a man living in a tent next to Dojo said that he has not seen the outreach team at all in the week and-a-half that they have been engaging with his encampment.  JR Carter, who has been living in the encampment for three months and has been homeless for 17 years, said he is ready to move into the Navigation Center and out of homelessness, but has not been offered a bed at the center.

“I’m somebody that would benefit from it,” said the 36-year-old. “But I hear that they’ve offered it to other people.”

Some attendees of Wednesday’s meeting, disturbed by the encampments’ increasing visibility, expressed confusion about how to interact with their homeless neighbors.

“I have a lot of things to lose based on the encampments and I get really bad reviews on my restaurant that affect me economically,” said Mission restaurateur Manuel Torres-Gimenez. “I don’t know what to do next time I have tents in front of my restaurants, when my clients cannot walk [on the] sidewalk.”

Other neighbors worried over a wave of crime on their streets that they attribute to nearby tent encampments. They called for more police involvement and blamed Mission District officers for failing to enforce laws that criminalize encampments, like lodging on public sidewalks.

“When are we going to enforce the law? When are we going to remove these people from the streets?” said Craig Weber, a resident on Shotwell Street. He was quickly interrupted by booing audience members who yelled “Where are they supposed to go?” and “Poverty is not a crime!”

Captain Daniel Perea, captain of the Mission Station, fired back: “We are not going to solve homelessness by giving people tickets or arresting people. ”

While Weber criticized city leadership for caving to “claims of entitlements” by the homeless, their advocates chastised city officials for “making decisions that impact the homeless” without actually involving those living in the encampments.

“They are the experts, not you, not the supervisors, and certainly not the mayor – you all have a home,” said Bilal Ali, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, to Cohen. “You and others like you are talking about homeless people, not for homeless people.”

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  1. Why not allow a homeless encampment around Mayor Ed Lee’s house? At least maybe that will get his attention. He perhaps lives in a “gated community” or at least somewhere that doesn’t tolerate strangers sleeping in people’s stairwells though, so he doesn’t have to put up with what the city imposes on average residents. There was a girl sitting on my alleyway steps playing pop music loudly on her radio at 8:30 this morning, and her boyfriend who was perhaps urinating on a tree when I looked out my window had a pile of clothes sitting on the sidewalk.

  2. Until you can show me $5b, there will be no housing for the 8000 or so homeless people on SF’s streets.

    The City needs to provide outfrastructure in non-residential areas on non-active frontages, such as around San Bruno and 15th or parts of Showplace Square, Lava Mae and Pitstops times ten, along with water, laundry, safe injection sites, mental health triage, etc., to deal with the fact that there is a small town living outside. The City must provide this and not “partner” with another useless nonprofit.

    Kicking people around is neither legal nor productive, there is no housing and will not be, so the solution has to lie between.

    I wonder if I can call Adriana Camarena the next time a homeless person leaves a stinking pile of feces as a gift to clean it up? Anyone got her number?

  3. Wish seupervisor Mark Farrell was Supervisor of district 9. He seemed logical and states the case that at least he is doing something and not sitting on his ass bitching about the status quo. Wish the advocates and so called spokes people for the homeless would stop complaining at any idea and try to help out and actually contribute to find these people shelters or accept the fact that they dont want to be helped.

  4. More power to Cohen. She has friends in the Mission. Dont let them naysayers prevent you from doing what you think will is right.

  5. Art Agnos suggested a decommissioned shop to dock in SF that would provide shelter and services for 1000+ homeless. In a city of sky high real estate value, what’s wrong with that? Is the city considering it?

    1. As a formerly homeless person in SF in the last 5 years I can honestly say this is the most unrealistic idea I have heard.

      I spent over 1 calendar year from 2013-2014 homeless and I only slept outside 2 nights. The rest of the time I was in shelters.

      I know from first hand experience the dynamic that plays out between the homeless population and the city.

      Sadly it is true that the majority of the homeless do not have an interest in working. Those that do want to work most often cannot because of a criminal record, a mental illness, the tight economy, or lack of education.

      Those that sleep on the street regularly are there because they refuse to conform to shelter rules of curfew.

      The shelters are not holiday inns by any means: they are cramped, unpleasant, and dangerous. It is no exaggeration that theft and fights are the daily norm and sometimes result in fatalities. Ask anyone about MSC South.

      Each day more destitute people migrate to San Francisco because of the generous services that are here. In my time homeless I GAINED weight. Anyone on the street asking money for food is full of bs.

      As long as the services are given free with mostly no accountability the homeless population will increase. The average homeless person gets placed in a city subsidized SRO after about a year wait.

      Most homeless who CHOOSE to sleep on street have substance abuse issues. Of those squatting on the street, because that is what they are doing, I estimate well over half are theives.

      Those who advocate for the homeless would never allow you to put them on the aircraft carrier bc they would say it is inhumane conditions and if it was compulsory they would say you are jailing them.

      The aircraft carrier would be less safe than current shelter but cost much more to maintain. Do you know how much it costs to make a carrier safe to live in?

      Even if you could get past that, many people would still choose to be on the street. And new arrivals will keep coming.

      I dont know what the solution is but I know this idea will not be a viable solution…definately NOT a game changer.

      1. SJ — thanks for your first hand perspective and honest assessment on the realities of homelessness in SF. Any rational person who sees the injection drug use, crack smoking, prostitution, and bicycle chop shops that are part of most camps knows that “not enough shelter beds” is not the issue. The issue is that these criminal behaviors are not allowed in the shelters. Sadly most “homeless advocates” are not rational.

        Hugh congrats on making a better life for yourself. I can’t imagine what a struggle it must be to pull yourself out of that situation. You are likely tougher and stronger than most of us.

  6. This is a hard nut to crack, but the City has got to deal with it. And its inevitable, in a City where young tech workers got filthy rich and now claim their entitled to their wealthy lifestyles by the lottery tickets they held, – – that there won’t be even ground to pitch a tent on for the unlucky who held losing lottery tickets.

    If it wasn’t about human suffering, it would be comical. Tragic Comedy.

    1. These people choose to live on street instead of shelter. I was homeless in SF for 1.5 years, slept outside 2 nights by choice, never went 2 days wothout shower, and gained weight. I had no friends in SF or family this was all help from city/state. This was 2013/14. I am sorry to tell you that these people in tents will decieve you. They also are likely on drugs, theives, and not at all interested in making a positive contribution, only making excuses.

    2. I come from dirt poor people. I spent 7 years earning 2 degrees and own that student debt and work outside of tech, but can afford to live as I choose. How does that require winning a lottery ticket?

  7. Restaurant reviews affected by homeless encampments?! AYFKM?!!!

    Anyone who hurts a business by giving it crappy reviews on the basis of something that is happening outside the establishment – and thus not under its control – deserves to have their financial wellbeing arbitrarily ruined by forces entirely outside their control. Karmically-speaking, it’s only fair. Then maybe they can sit on the sidewalk, homeless and in despair, and know what it’s like to have little clones of their former vapid selves walk by, holding their noses in derision. May they then weep bitter tears.

    1. The reality is that patrons are less likely to go to an establishment that is in dangerous and/or disgusting surroundings. The small business owners WORK very hard. The squatters do NOT WORK at all. I side with the workers.

  8. If they don’t enforce Sit/Lie, why should we expect this new plan to be implemented?

    Unfortunately, this must be handled on a block by block basis from the people living on that block. Tell them to leave, put up cameras, water your flowers and wash the walls of your building daily. Take pictures and tell them it’s for your local neighborhood crime blog. They will move to another block pronto.