In a case of musical tents, evicted inhabitants of a 20-person encampment on Erie Street settled a street over, on Division Street last month, but on Tuesday – two weeks later – police targeted that camp on Division Street for an early morning clean-up. Now, many of the campers have returned to Erie Street.
“They don’t want no one in that area,” said a displaced Division Street camper who gave her name as Cooper, adding that police had come to vacate Division Street “from the skatepark [on Mission Street] to Best Buy [on Harrison Street].”
Cars passing through Erie Street towards Folsom Street navigated around clothing strewn throughout parts of the alleyway and campers sitting on the sidewalk and on crates in the street.
“We are not supposed to be here but we are here,” said another camper displaced from Division, who gave her initials, E.T.
Like Cooper, the woman had previously lived on Erie Street and is now back. “The cops don’t want to move us either, but it’s their job,” she said. “They’ll come by again soon, because the road is being blocked and cars can’t get through.”
“Cops keep coming by. They said they don’t care which way we move. Many moved one block over – It’s a big roundabout of nothing,” said Cooper, referring to the Division Street clearing.
Dozens of others moved on Tuesday and Wednesday from Division to settle in nearby alleys – some headed to Kissling Street in SOMA, San Bruno Avenue in Potrero Hill, and along Bryant Street in the Mission, according to Cooper.
San Francisco Police Department Spokesperson Grace Gatpandan said that Division Street’s Tuesday clearing was part of a Public Works routine cleanup and that campers could return to Division Street if they wished. Campers were told to move so that the sidewalks could be powerwashed and garbage collected, she explained, adding that the relocation is not permanent.
Those who were forced to move on Tuesday say they were not given the impression that they were allowed back.
Police came sometime around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday to tell campers, “You guys got to go because the mayor doesn’t want to see [anybody] that might be homeless on Division,” said Cooper.
The warning reminded some of last March when the city readied for Super Bowl and Mayor Ed Lee ordered some 100 tents removed from a sprawling Division Street encampment there.
The mayor’s office declined to comment on the recent clearing.
The campers and police disagreed on some of the details of Tuesday’s clearing.
Stragglers who remained on Division Street after they were told to leave were issued citations by officers who returned on Wednesday, according to Cooper and other campers who have returned to Erie Street.
But Gatpandan said that no citations were issued during Tuesday’s clearing, but added that one camper was arrested for an outstanding warrant.
“Someone went to jail … because he had his stuff on the sidewalk for like 45 minutes,” said a woman displaced from Division Street who declined to give her name.
Employees of businesses on Division Street attested that the number of tents had increased in recent months.
“They’ll be back,” said an employee of a ceramic tile store on Division and South Van Ness Avenue. He said he wasn’t bothered by the campers but that the smell of feces and urine was a problem. A block over, near Folsom Street, a section of sidewalk in front of a car mechanic read in painted letters “No Camping Blocking Business.”
“I think the push involves everybody in the city – whoever is reporting that they don’t want to see us,” said E.T., speculating on what had sparked their removal. She estimated that upward of 40 people were camped on Division prior to Tuesday. “There is usually more than one person in a tent. Sometimes up to four.”
As sporadic cleanups of unauthorized homeless encampments by city officials continue, so does the confusion about city protocol concerning their removal.
Proposition Q, a “tent-ban” ordinance, makes tents pitched on city sidewalks illegal, but requires a 24-hour notice, property storage and the offer of overnight shelter before campers can be removed.
Despite this ordinance, police maintain the right to remove encampments at their discretion.
Police officials have said repeatedly that they do not remove encampments unless they create a hazard or if campers engage in criminal activity.
Cooper said that she and others received no notice of the early morning clearing, and that she was not offered services by outreach workers.
“I didn’t see [the Homeless Outreach] team at all. Nowhere around. The cops came in and [Public Works] had the dump truck,” said Cooper. “Then they came by one more time before leaving for the day to make sure we knew we had to move.”
Randy Quezada, of the Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said that this was false – seven people were offered services by outreach workers present during the cleanup and two accepted, he said.
Any notice given to campers would have been an oral “heads up” by either police or outreach workers, said Quezada.
“This type of engagement is not like encampment resolution team engagement,” he said, referring to a new approach to resolving encampments spearheaded by his department in which the homeless are engaged over a course of weeks, receive written notice and are offered services in preparation of their camp’s removal.