Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Despite ongoing efforts by various city departments to dismantle the Mission’s homeless encampments, residents of the northeast areas of the neighborhood say the tent sprawl there has grown in size and brought crime to their doorsteps.

At the Mission Police Station regular community meeting on Tuesday, the group of some 30 neighbors – many dressed in black to signify unity in their efforts to clean up their neighborhood – asked Mission Police Captain Daniel Perea to ramp up efforts to thwart criminal activity that most said they witness daily and attribute to a permissive attitude towards homeless campers by the city and local police.

“Lots of people are losing their minds, I feel totally unsafe,” said a woman who gave her name as BeeBee, and described the 14th and Mission streets intersection as a “war zone.”

Loitering, drug use, illegal camping and theft were among the list of complaints that many say plague an area roughly encompassed by Mission and Harrison streets and stretching from 16th Street to Division Street. The group asked for more police presence and rigid enforcement of anti-camping and loitering ordinances.

“We want to know what you are going to do about cleaning up the people on the street who are breaking the law everyday,” said a resident of the area, describing a “a caravan of tents and campers [vans]” that line neighborhood streets.

“Captain, your patrol officers have said to me point blank, ‘We are told not to intervene with anybody on the street’.”

Perea disagreed and said that police intervene if crimes are being committed, but that being homeless is not a crime.

Mission Police Station Captain Daniel Perea addresses community members at Tuesday’s police meeting. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

“We can issue warnings, citations and we can make arrests if there is evidence of criminal activity,” said Perea, but he added that the department’s resources are often needed for higher priority calls and that their ability to enforce anti-camping laws often boils down to numbers – the Mission has one of the highest calls for service of any division.  

Perea said that in the months of July, August, and September, the Mission received, respectively, 563, 690, and 685 “encampment reports,” through the city’s 311 system.

“The only area where we have similar numbers is South of Market,” said Perea, adding that “non-emergency calls for services in other district are often in the teens, if even breaking into double digits.”

He said that he has been attending monthly meetings with officials of the city’s Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Public Utilities Commission, the Homeless Outreach Team, and Mission Supervisor David Campos’ office, all of whom are collaborating to resolve the homeless encampments in the Mission.

While the city’s approach to encampments, Perea said, is “longer and softer” in terms of transitioning residents off the streets and into housing, the police’s role has not changed.


“Our role is to enforce the law,” he said, but added that his officers are increasingly instructed to focus on connecting the homeless that they encounter to resources.

Regardless, some neighbors felt that homeless campers were being directed to their neighborhood as their camps are cleared out in other parts of the Mission.

“We feel like our area is an area where people are telling folks to go,” said neighbor Kelly Alberta, describing a swelling number of tents on 15th and 16th streets, as well as along South Van Ness Avenue and Mission Street.

“Near Foodsco, there’s a whole encampment – they even have a generator,” said Alberta, referring to the supermarket at 15th and Shotwell streets.

Perea reassured the neighbors that there is no concerted plan to shuffle campers throughout the district.

“We can’t just tell these people to move along – if somebody is on private property [or] committing a crime, that’s another issue,” said Perea.  

The group of neighbors said that crime and grime around the encampments was their biggest concern, and specifically questioned the captain about the legality of street vending in the area.  

“What can be done legally about the flea markets that pop up on Saturday and Sunday between 15th and 14th on Mission?” asked Alberta.

Andrew Presley, who lives near 14th and Mission streets, described the street vending as “camouflaging” the illegal activities that he said transpire along the intersection.

Perea said while some vendors are permitted “to sell things on the street,” he would task his lieutenants with instructing patrolling officers in the area to “check people” for permits.

Beebee, another neighbor, said that some of the illegal street vendors encourage crime in the area by selling stolen property, and called an empty lot with “eight electrical sockets” at 1801 Mission St., a “blight’ in the neighborhood that grants many of the local vendors  and homeless access to electricity and encourages loitering.

“Extension cords are run from 1801 Mission –all the laptops, phones, everything they sell are charged through [those] outlets,” she said.

Others questioned the captain about enforcing existing policy, such as the city’s sit-lie ordinance, that makes it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks and in public spaces between 7 a.m and 11 p.m. daily.

That city ordinance is enforced, said Perea, but through a three-step process that includes a verbal warning and a written warning before citations are issued.  The law itself contains several exceptions, such as a person suffering from a medical condition sitting on the sidewalk.

“People are frustrated with certain issues and lump people into categories,” said Perea. “We can’t do that. We don’t enforce the law that way.”

Still, Perea encouraged the residents to continue calling the police and to file police reports in incidences where a crimes has been committed.

“If you’re not certain, call 911 – you’re not doing anything wrong,” said Perea, adding that any information given to police is helpful in building cases against career criminals.

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  1. I was shooting a wedding and a homeless gentleman started to walk in to the ceremony before someone had asked him to leave. We then saw him later at our reception nearby…

  2. I’m in the Civic Center, so I have to deal with this daily. None of us like lit, but that doean’t mean that the police are the solution; the only power they have is to arrest or kill people.

    The problems of homeless, mental illness, substance abuse, poverty, poor education all interact. Cynthia is right: if in fact we really want the problems reduced even a little bit, housing and social services have to be provided somewhere.

    Having the police check every casual flea market for stolen good with no reasonable cause to believe that a particular seller has stolen goods – that’s just ineffective harassment (sleazy dealers are where most stolen electronics go). Let the police focus on what they can do.

    Gerard, sorry, but we DO have to live with this !#$@%!!@#% problem until we can find solutions. Either we have real solutions or we add to the problem by chasing false solutions.

  3. Basically this meeting didn’t accomplish anything based off of this article. Pérea is making excuses and justifying everything, signs of a poor leader.

  4. I see. I wonder how many of these complainants are advocating for more affordable housing, or for stronger eviction protections, or for a radical shift in homeless spending towards the one thing that actually works — building housing.

    In other words, are they even trying to solve the problem, or do they just want those scary bad homeless people to go away?

    1. Telling someone that you won’t address the unlawful activity taking place in their neighborhood until they come up with a grand unified theory for solving one of this city’s most complex problems is a convenient way of telling someone to live with a problem that they shouldn’t be compelled to endure.

    2. “Affordable” housing ? You mean like the units at 19th and S. Van Ness the city is funding? $948,000 per single unit, is the antithesis of “affordable”. Yeah, we should spent a million dollars housing each “homeless” person…. You and your ignorant opinion is the problem.

    3. Their solution is what people do when faced with an annoyance they think shouldn’t exist. First, wait and hope it goes away. Next, harass it to make it go away. Then, drive it away using force with the threat of annihilation if it returns. Finally, make good on the threat.

  5. For nearly eight years Disaster Campos, who used to be on the police commission, hasn’t addressed housing and homeless issues in his district to the degree that they need constant attention.

    From his lateness on the eviction epidemic, rising rents, massive displacement, ever expanding encampments, to so many concerns roiling the Mission, Campos as been missing in action.

    When he finally came up with a plan to address some housing matters, it was the moratorium. He and various nonprofits and grassrooters all collaborated on stopping Maximus and a luxury condo moratorium.

    What do they have to show for it? No lasting betterment on any matter and now Disaster Campos and Hillary Ronen say they see how wrong the moratorium idea was.

    No wonder the cops are getting a constant earful from residents and businesses. The police at least how regular meetings. The same can never be said of Camps.

    Has any District 9 supervisorial candidate committed to regular open meetings in the Mission?

  6. As expected Campos is in his lame duck role and is nowhere to be seen. Thought he gave 4 months for the encampments to disappear? Encampments are actually growing along Foodco. on shotwell between 17th and 14th. Tents have taken over . nobody wants to walk near that place after 5pm. When are they going to enforce the law? I have not seen a single foot patrole in the past 6 months despite putting in repeated 311 notices of stolen bicycles, drug use, prostitution.

    1. Hi Pamela, I have been hearing sentiments like yours from neighbors and business owners all around the city-but definitely in the Mission. I work with Proposition Q, which will work to clean up the tent encampments and transition folks out of these tent encampments and into housing or shelter. I’d love to talk to you more about it.