In the midst of last night’s downpour, another squall was brewing within Mission Station. Residents living near Dolores Park came to the monthly police community meeting and begged for help, or even some guidance, from police officials in removing homeless camps from their street.
Residents living near 19th and Church streets said that a large homeless camp had been making their lives difficult and dangerous. One resident said he was being stalked by a homeless man. Another resident said she had feces thrown at her windows while the person throwing it yelled loudly.
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. I’ve seen a lot, [but] never seen tents there, ever. June was my first report but it’s a daily occurrence,” Rick Carell, a homeowner in the area near the park, told officials.
The meeting, which drew around 30 residents from both Mission and Castro districts, started with Lieutenant Chris Canning leading the discussion in place of Mission Station Captain Gaetano Caltagirone, who was out for family reasons. After making the perfunctory announcements, Canning switched gears and talked about enforcement issues in the area. Canning said that the station was taking a surgical approach to enforcing issues like homeless camps in the area because of limited resources.
Sergeant Davin Cole then addressed the attendees. He works in the Health Streets Operation Center (HSOC) coordinating multiple agencies to clean, move, offer services and sometimes request police assistance in clearing homeless camps. Cole said that the HSOC is more like a giant strategy room with alerts popping up on screens, but also explained how the limited human resources of the city are being used to keep streets cleaner.
But when Cole finally took questions, Carell raised his hand and asked Cole and Canning what they could do to remove that encampment at 19th and Church streets.
“All this stuff is great, but it’s not working,” Carell said.
Carell noted that he had had an altercation with a homeless man and was calling the police as the man yelled in his face. But it took police an hour to get there.
Another man, who called himself Russ K., said that when he walked his dog, homeless people living on his block would not let him pass on the sidewalk, and purposely blocked his way.
But Cole said that the police could only enforce a sit-lie law between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Cole also said that it’s even harder to move tents off public property if there are no beds available in shelters throughout the city — which was certainly the case on Tuesday.
The sergeant said that in the two years he had been a part of HSOC, not one case regarding illegal camping had been prosecuted. That brought some ire from the crowd of homeowners, who made quips about District Attorney-elect Chesa Boudin.
Another resident, a homeowner who did not want her name published, then spoke out about her complaints, mainly that she felt the city cares more about the rights of homeless people than homeowners.
“We feel here, we’re homeowners and renters, we feel we don’t have any rights. These people appear to have a few more rights than we do,” the woman said. “If I left my trash like they do, I would be cited and I would have to pay because I own a home.”
The woman said she has had instances where homeless people used her driveway as a bathroom and defecated on the concrete, used her faucet as a shower and threw trash in front of her home. Though she wants to help people, she felt that the city was siding with homeless people over homeowners and renters, and wanted to know what she could legally do to combat the homeless.
“What can me and my neighbors do?” the woman asked Cole.
Cole suggested the residents group together and take environmental measures to make the neighborhood less attractive to criminals and tent dwellers by adding outdoor planter pots, bright lights and cameras.
The police officers explained the mechanisms by which any crimes can be prosecuted and processed, essentially describing why their hands were tied.
When someone suggested charging the homeless people as a gang, police officials shot that notion down by saying proving the homeless are part of a gang would prove difficult.
The crowd, frustrated with the response from police officials, then concluded that if the police wouldn’t help, then elected officials would. One woman, Carol Kennedy, who lives near Dolores Park, said it’s up to policy makers to stand up now and force new legislative change.
“We don’t want to criminalize anyone, but I do agree we might need a bit more stick. We have the carrot, but we need more stick,” Cole said.