Residents of the Mission and Castro districts attending a contentious community meeting Wednesday night made it clear: They want homeless residents out of their neighborhoods — most specifically, out of Dolores Park and Pink Triangle Park, near Market and 17th Streets.
“If we took a field trip across the street right now [to Dolores park], we’d see people smoking meth,” said one of the residents attending the meeting at the Children’s Day School.
He added that he’s seen younger homeless people “shooting up” and smoking meth.
Another of the 30 or so mostly older residents who attended the meeting agreed.
“You can spend an hour here [in Dolores park] and see a drug sale. Not drug use but a drug sale. Don’t we owe our children something better than this?” he asked.
District 8 supervisor Rafael Mandelman initially called the meeting to talk about the shooting in Dolores Park over Carnaval weekend but, after only a few minutes, frustration over homelessness and drug use took over.
Mandelman’s office sensed this might happen and had invited representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the Mission police station, Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC), and Parks and Recreation, Public Works, and Homeless and Supportive Housing departments.
Residents wanted to know what these city departments were doing to get homeless campers out of Dolores Park for good.
A woman who introduced herself as a mother asked if it was legal to set up tents anywhere in the city, particularly at Mission playground and near Mission High School.
SFPD Lt. Davin Cole cited California penal code 647E, which states no one can set up a structure for the purpose of lodging on any public or private property without permission.
However, Parks & Recreation does allow the use of tents at parks, Cole said. Such permissions allow families to set up tents for parties, but police cannot favor families over the homeless.
Such contradictions only inflamed some in the crowd.
Is it okay to “slit those tents with a knife so that it is no longer a shelter?” one man asked. He was serious. “I want to cut that tent into pieces so that they can’t live there anymore.”
Mission Station Captain Gaetano Caltagirone informed the man that if he destroyed someone’s tent, he would be committing a crime.
Another person who introduced himself as Donald said he called 311 multiple times because he saw an encampment at the park. Nothing happened. It was the second time he had seen the group at the park. Another time he saw a person drilling into a utility box, but 311 redirected him to a non-emergency police number that redirected him back to 311.
Like many at the meeting, he was desperate for clarification on who to call.
Department representatives answered by listing the services they provide to get people off the streets and into housing and treatment centers.
Marcus Santiago, head park patrol ranger, did say that they are adding an additional ranger to patrol Dolores Park.
“We do not want to criminalize homelessness, we do not want to arrest our way out of this,” said Cole, who works out of the Homeless Street Outreach Center, a collaborative department comprised of representatives from Public Health, SFPD, Public Works and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
Cole’s field unit engages with people living on the street and directs them to housing and public health resources. But it is well known that there are not enough services, beds or treatment centers.
Nevertheless, Mandelman advised patience.
“These are good guys who are trying to help the folks on the street. but it is also being required of them,” said Supervisor Mandelman. “The expansion of services they’re describing is real. If we can do more by providing services to folks and getting people into drug treatment, we’ll do that over the next year and we should see results.”
Mandelman appeared to tie success to Proposition C, a gross receipts tax initiative to fund homelessness services. It could generate $300 million in tax revenue, but Mandelman explained “it’s tied up in litigation and we can’t spend a penny of dollars until the litigation is resolved, which is scheduled to be five years out.”
The crowd gave a collective sigh. Money from the city’s current budget is still being directed towards the expansion of services. The Mayor’s homeless policy advisor, Emily Cohen, assured attendees that the city’s new encampment resolution strategy is working, albeit slowly.
“First we need to make sure that everyone in that encampment has a genuine offer of a safe place to go off the street,” Cohen said. “We do need to do it strategically. If we just go in, we will just be encouraging folks to move without coming to get services.”
According to data from the city, Cohen said around 50 people are rehoused every week. However, another 100 to 150 become homeless at the same time, she said. “We are not housing people at the same rate people are becoming homeless,” Cohen said.
Beginning August 1, Cohen said, residents should start to see an increase of patrols in the park and outreach workers trying to convince homeless to accept housing and treatment services.
Mandelman’s constituents were not reassured. “The tactics that you all are talking about sound good but the reality is [different],” an attendee named Seth said. He mentioned that several of his friends who also have children moved out of the Mission to more upscale Noe Valley because of the homeless.
“My wife and I have all these conversations about, ‘should we just leave, should we expose our kids to this?’”