Homeowners last night complained to Mission Station officers about encampments like this one, photographed on Oct. 5 ,2016 between Folsom and Harrison. Officers responded that they do not possess ready legal means to clear such encampments. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

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. 

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  1. Look people, you have only yourselves to blame. You repeat the same behavior over and over expecting different results each time, and the homeless have come to depend on you for this.

    You re-elect “progressives” because, lets face it, you wouldn’t want to risk your friends finding out you voted otherwise, because politics is essentially religion for this town.

    However, imagine that you did, collectively, take a risk, and just vote for anyone else. Forget about who that other side is, they may be against everything you hold dear and true, but their getting elected, even once, would give the progressive establishment something to fear by not listening to you. And who knows, maybe the enemy will be more of a frenemy in the immediate and they’ll actually fix the problem.

    Also, think about it, who benefits from this “endless problem that can never be fixed?” It’s your progressive establishment. $500 million to house the otherwise would-be homeless alone … how is that money being funneled? To whom exactly? … Oh dare ye not ask, or risk the stigma of blasphemy upon you.

    We all know that when their are billions of dollars in the mix, every politician is a bastion of honesty and integrity.

    You’re the ones stepping over Pelosi-steamers.

    You want the homeless issue actually dealt with? Then organize and take a risk: vote out. Hell, form the Hard Line Homeless Party just to deal with this issue, and then dissolve it when it’s fixed. … In the least, organize a shit-in in front of your local council member’s home.

    Your welcome.

  2. Ahhh America at its finest, and likely whitest: there is no problem criminal justice can’t solve.

  3. A few things come to mind…..provide an ultimatum to the board of supervisors to get tough and serious with the homeless, crime and filthy streets ; set due dates, and insist on getting reports. If we’re not happy let’s have a recall of the board and replace them with real problem solvers. Tax payers, home owners and renters are fed up. We’re tired of elected officials pandering to the homeless industry and basically saying fuck you to the rest of us. If nothing is done citizens may be forced to take action on their own.

  4. Homelessness is created by out of control real estate markets, limited resources to support the un-skilled, the sick, mentally ill, self medicated, physically limited and poverty stricken. Police be enforcement only moves the tent cities to New locations. Prop 13 and other constraints limit the resources the city has to address the problem. Many homeless in their current circumstances are unemployable. Maybe the home owning neighbors should do a Christmas dinner for their new neighbors instead of viewing them as threats and get to know them as individuals. The polarization only feeds the anger on both sides. The choice is yours.

    1. This the same old progressive crime enabling crap we’ve heard over and over. It should be obvious that It doesn’t work and is a complete failure of policy. It’s time to get tough and take action. Replace the board, do neighborhood patrols and make it clear we’re not putting up with this anymore.

      1. The problem is the entitled rent controlled. They want horrible conditions in San Francisco to hold onto their discount apartments and vote in the leftist supervisors that promise to enable and legitimize third world conditions.

        1. >The problem is the entitled rent controlled. They want horrible conditions in San Francisco to hold onto their discount apartments

          This makes no sense, Their unit is rent controlled whether there are tents outside or not. It’s not like if the neighborhood perks up, they suddenly lose rent control.

    2. So Charles — when are you going to announce your “come-one-come-all” Holiday Dinner?

      Location and time please.

      BTW, skyrocketing housing costs are cause by a lack of housing.

      Accordingly, the problem is not “out of control real estate markets” — its the fact that NIMBY localities “control” (i.e., limit) the amount of housing that can be created which results in a scarcity of housing, runaway prices and gentrification.

      The surest way to gentrify a desirable place is to NOT build housing.

      1. Can you give an example of a city that built its way out of a housing crisis without just causing urban sprawl? Where exactly ARE these market-rate solutions working? Especially in places with finite land like SF? Genuinely curious to know.

        Seattle is double the size of SF with about half the population and they have been building nonstop. There is still a massive housing/homelessness crisis.

        Homelessness is rampant in Texas, which tends to have a much more free market approach than CA (and permits sprawl and lacks environmental reviews in some areas like Houston)

        Homelessness is surging in red and blue states. There are encampments/people living in their vehicles everywhere. Incomes cannot keep up with inflated rent prices. People cannot pay their medical bills or their student loans.

        We are never going to build enough market rate housing in SF to trickle down to the poor. And why would the developers even want that?

  5. Earlier this month, there was a man who would set up tent across from our house around dusk, go inside, and by morning he’d be gone. Neighbors had no problem with him.

    Earlier this week, there was a drug party of 4 people who had set up an encampment and were partying on. Thad was not tolerated.

    I draw the first line at sharps and shits, and the second line at disrespectful conduct in a residential neighborhood.

    If progressives don’t get a handle on this, then the conservatives will use yet another punitive ballot measure ostensibly directed against homeless people to further wedge the electorate from progressives. Care Not Cash will look like a walk in the park in comparison.

    “Be compassionate, do practically nothing” might have a certain moral appeal. But politically that is suicidal.

  6. I wish San Franciscans would focus on the national root causes of homelessness: income inequality (which is staggering in SF), lack of affordable housing, lack of mental health care and even lack of access to good education, instead of acting like this is a special SF issue.

    Homelessness is surging nationwide. We should be holding Pelosi, Obama and Feinstein accountable for letting federal housing funds dry up and never, ever fighting for them or Medicare for All, etc. Local policing is a band aid that usually just punishes homeless people and moves them around temporarily.

    And think of how this will grow worse as the climate crisis deepens and millions of people become climate refugees. Yet we have Pelosi mocking the Green New Deal.

    I understand no one wants encampments on their streets, but the unhoused have by far the worse end of it. To say they “have more rights” than homeowners…let’s blame the party leadership that let this happen and vote them out instead of trying to get individuals arrested.

    1. The “unhoused”. Well that’s a good term. As they throw garbage and filth from their tents all around on the sidewalk and in the gutter. If. I did that in front of my building I would be reported by my neighbors and would pay a fine if I didn’t clean up my act. Yet these street people, throw their trash all over the place. You must live up a hill somewhere as to be such an enabler of the “unhoused”. Filth, needles, garbage. There is a trash bin 10 feet away from them yet they leave pizza crusts and chicken bones all over the lawns around Dolores Park. No wonder this city has a rodent problem! Get these homeless bums out of this neighborhood,

  7. i don’t really understand what actions the residents want PD to take, outside of responding faster when police are called. residents want PD to give citations to the homeless people? prosecute people for camping? i dont know that if the city did those things, the encampments would disappear. what other actions can the city do to address this problem? what could elected officials possibly do that would make a change? i hear a lot of talk about “something has to be done” but not many realistic solutions being discussed.