Photo by Laura Waxmann

A homeless encampment that had been growing in size for several months near 9th and Brannan streets was removed by San Francisco Police officers and Public Works cleaning crews on Thursday.

Instead of the camp resolution process that involves weeks of preparation by outreach workers, Thursday’s sweep happened in one morning and was lead by police and public works.

“This was a sweep, we need to get real about this,” said Kelley Cutler, a human rights advocate for the Coalition on Homelessness.

This kind of sweep generally happens in response to complaints – and those had been stacking up for months.  The camp’s most recent arrivals – displaced from other sweeps or resolutions –  erected a row of tents and stored bicycle parts along the back premises of a Fitness SF Gym, their belongings taking over the sidewalk there and spilling into the street.

“You could not get from 8th to 9th streets,” said Don Dickerson, director of operations at SF Fitness. Some weeks ago, an employee at the gym told Mission Local that staff and members there filed complaints with police and city agencies regularly.

“Our maintenance staff is harassed constantly. They step on needles. Our members quit because they don’t want to deal with this stuff,” said Dickerson.

The owners of the gym estimated that up to 50 people had been living in the encampment before Thursday’s removal.

Following months of targeted encampment resolutions along a four-block stretch of nearby San Bruno Avenue at the border of the Mission as well as from more residential areas, many campers who did not receive or turned down services resettled at that camp.  It was located underneath the 101 freeway on-ramp that separates the Mission from South of Market adjacent to the gym.

“It wasn’t a resolution,” said a camper named Couper, referring to the formal process administered by the Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing in which a team of social workers engages with campers over the course of several weeks to prepare them for shelter services leading up to an encampment removal.  

“It was [a response to] an ADA issue because those mother fuckers over there were blocking the sidewalk,” said Couper referring to some new homeless residents who had moved in. “We’ve been here for hella long. And they just come in and make problems.”

Couper from Mission Local on Vimeo.

A requests for comment from the city’s Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing was not returned by press time. Rachel Gordon, spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Public works, confirmed that cleaning crews from her department responded to the area after receiving a request for service from the San Francisco Police Department. 

Couper said that she cleans the area around her tent daily and makes room for pedestrians to walk by, but as the encampment grew larger, its newer residents were less attentive.

Even surrounding business owners said that the tent swell along Brannen Street was a direct result of nearby sweeps and more permanent encampment resolutions in the Mission.

“Different things have caused this area getting bad. That sweep there and that sweep here.  But during Super Bowl it was the worst – they swept them off Market Street and everyone came here,” said Dickerson. “Somewhere between the people who want to be comfortable walking down the street and the homeless having the right to put up a tent if they need to, there’s a conflict.“

A temporary Navigation Center for the homeless at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. opened its doors earlier this month in an effort to give campers displaced by sweeps or formal encampment resolutions a place to go.

There, the hope is that they will be connected to services and supportive housing during their stays, ranging from 30 to 90 days. Another, 75-bed Navigation Center has operated at 1950 Mission Street since 2015, and is set to close early next year.

Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who pushed for the South Van Ness Navigation Center in response to increasing neighborhood discontentment over tent encampments, along with Mayor Ed Lee, this week secured state funding – $10 million in total – for the construction another, permanent Navigation Center at an undisclosed site in the Mission District.  

Dickerson wanted to know if the opening of the newest Navigation Center at 1515 South Van Ness had offered any relief to the Mission – But it may be too soon to measure its impact.

So far, 89 people have been placed, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The center has a 120-person capacity and exclusively serves the Mission’s homeless population during its temporary life. By the end of the year, it will close to make room for a housing development.

Those targeted by Monday’s sweep at Brannan Street were angered by the continued shuffle.

“We were given notice yesterday afternoon – we are supposed to be given a 72-hour notice,” said Couper. “We were all running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to get everything done. I had 15 cops today – standing here, arms crossed, looking at us and waiting for us to get our stuff out.

“I’m just going as slow as I can,” said Couper.  “Hurry up and go where? I have nowhere to go.”

Some seeking placement in the Navigation Center remained on the street on Thursday, unsure of where to go next.  

“I had to hear from a friend of mine who doesn’t even stay down here that [the city] was packing up all of our stuff today,” said a 23-year-old Brannan Street camper who gave his name as Eli.

“They are not telling us where to go next, just to get into the Navigation Center. But nobody is taking our names or putting us on the list.”

Eli said that he had heard that homeless outreach workers visited his encampment over the last two days, but said that he was unaware that they were there because he had been resting in his tent.

“It’s sort of like, whoever got the memo,” he said, adding: “I want to go into the Navigation Center. I’ve been homeless for over half of my life..I was raised in the streets and I’m tired of it.”

Others, like Couper, were offered a bed but turned it down.

“Two people out of 60 that I know have gone in there have gotten housing,” said Couper, with a defeated smile. “But hey, two is better than none, I guess.”

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