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Critics rip city plan to address Tenderloin encampments as doing little to shelter the homeless

Critics rip city plan to address Tenderloin encampments as doing little to shelter the homeless
Fifty tents will be allowed to stay in the Fulton Mall Safe Sleeping Village seen here with marked tent spaces on Fulton Street between Larkin and Hyde. Photo by Christy Shrilla.

Advocates for the homeless said they are grateful for the attention the mayor is giving the Tenderloin in the city’s new neighborhood plan. But they complained about the delay — and, more immediately, the lack of planning to move the homeless people living on the streets of the Tenderloin to hotels and less dense neighborhoods.

Jeff Kositsky, the manager of the Healthy Streets Operations Center, announced the Tenderloin Neighborhood Plan for COVID-19 earlier this month to address problems around safety, health and security. It will focus on 13 blocks and 153 homeless residents, but it will eventually assist all of the 310 counted homeless individuals living in the 49-block area of the Tenderloin. 

The first 13 blocks have 159 tents, 32 encampments, and 153 individuals, according to an April 22 count. That count of tents showed a 71 percent increase citywide and a 285 percent jump in the Tenderloin since January. Six of the 13 priority blocks (see map) had no homeless services when the count was made.

During a May 6 press conference, Kositsky said that city workers have already installed six water manifolds for more drinking water supply, opened additional locations to pick up meals, added four 24-hour Pit Stop toilets, and identified 40 high-risk homeless individuals who would qualify for a hotel room.

The city introduced its plan in the immediate aftermath of UC Hastings suing the city over the squalid conditions in the Tenderloin. The problem, advocates said, is that the plan does not address sheltering the homeless or thinning out the Tenderloin’s overcrowded streets (Hastings’ dean blasted it as “entirely inadequate” and “just more talk.”). 

“Everything that is happening is about two months too late,” said Christy Shrilla, a resident and advocate for the homeless in the Tenderloin who is also a board member of the Tenderloin Community Benefit District. “We’re eight weeks into a crisis.” The plan, in her estimation, is “just not enough.”

Added Pratibha Tekkey, the director of community organizing at the Central City SRO Collaborative, added:  “I know it’s a complicated issue. We’re talking about people and people’s lives. … I feel like the city let it happen for all this time.”

“It’s been really frustrating; it’s hard to move freely around the neighborhood,” Shrilla said.

The overcrowded conditions in the Tenderloin were underscored early on in the crisis in letters from the Tenderloin Community Benefit District (TLCBD) and District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney. 

“Responding to this urgent public health concern will require extraordinary action,” wrote Simon Bertrang, the executive director of the benefit district, who, in the March 26 letter called for the city to act “without delay.”

Almost a month later, Matt Haney penned his own letter demanding action.

“Delays in addressing the need for shelter among unhoused residents has meant the streets have been crowded with tents,” Haney wrote. 

In the letter, Haney outlined eight plans, including designating safe sleeping sites and “immediate and priority placement of people on the streets into hotel rooms.”

“As far as the Tenderloin is concerned, it’s just too dense to fit all of these people, both housed and unhoused, safely,” Shrilla said.

Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said it is “disappointing” how there is a mismatch between the need and the city’s current plan.

“We’re glad that they’re talking about it, trying to address it. Like, that’s very appreciated,” she said. “But we’re concerned that there’s not more of a problem-solving in conjunction with the unhoused residents and that there’s too much focus on enforcement.”

Friedenbach, Shrilla and others have pushed the mayor — without success — to put the homeless in hotel rooms. To date, the mayor and other officials have resisted that pressure and instead said they would focus on only the vulnerable population 60 years and over and those with underlying health conditions. 

The 2019 Point-in-Time Count estimated that 10 percent or 803 of the 8,035 people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco were age 61 or older. 

The Tenderloin plan estimates that about 40 people out of the 310 individuals living on the streets of Tenderloin would qualify for a hotel room.

Since April 17, some 90 vulnerable homeless people in the Tenderloin have been moved to hotels, according to the city’s joint information officer. It remains unclear whether this has already included the reported 40 vulnerable homeless individuals from the assessment.

If hotel rooms are unavailable, Freindenbach said, “At the very least, open up Civic Center Plaza, which is a large green space there where people could spread out,” Friedenbach said.

Although the Tenderloin plan calls for safe sleeping sites “in and outside of the Tenderloin,” and it did not list any specific locations, it suggested Tenderloin parking lots, sidewalks, and blocked-off streets as possible safe sleeping sites.

Tekkey, the director of community organizing at the Central City SRO Collaborative, said the parking lots listed in the plan, such as the vacant lots at 180 Jones and on Hyde and Turk, are “extremely small.” To abide by social distancing protocols, they can only host up to 15 tents. 

“It doesn’t make sense to have 10 tents in each parking lot,” she said. “You’re still not changing what the problem is.”

That is, hundreds of homeless people in a dense neighborhood alongside 25,000 housed residents who also do not feel safe leaving their homes and going to essential businesses during the pandemic, Tekkey said.

“I think the fact that they’re not truly giving areas outside of the Tenderloin that are less dense a real look is a huge pitfall,” Shrilla added.

Encampment outside the Asian Art Museum, as of May 13. Photo by Christy Shrilla.

Shrilla offered the large encampment near the Asian Art Museum as a case in point. It has “90 tents and counting,” and was considered “extremely unsafe and unhealthy,” according to the Tenderloin plan. To remedy this, the plan recommended creating a safe sleeping site on Fulton Street between Larkin and Hyde  – an area that can only hold up to 50 tents, according to Jonathan Streeter, a city spokesman.

Tents are being moved onto marked spaces on Fulton Mall. Photo by Christy Shrilla.

Shrilla from the Tenderloin Community Benefit District said that she has repeatedly asked the city about where the 40 other tents would be placed, but she has not received a response.

Streeter said that the city does “acknowledge that not all people” at the encampment can stay. He did not offer any answers as to where the overflow of tents would go.

He also reported that the city started moving the tents and spreading them out on marked tent spaces on Fulton Street today.

Tekkey worries that because the plan does not address housing the unhoused, the plan would soon be inefficient as the city slowly reopens the economy — more people would be back outside while hundreds of people remain unmoved from the streets of the Tenderloin.

“In six months, if we don’t have this crisis, you can’t just ask people to leave,” Tekkey said. “You need to house them.”

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28 Comments

  1. Scott Parsons

    We already house 8,000 vagrants…. should we seize all private property and house 800,000 vagrants? What’s the limit ? Or is there any limit at all?

    Reply
    • **

      Scott – my understanding is the City houses about 1500 /yr, so at least double your figure.

      As for a limit – advocates’ job is to push the envelope. They don’t have to actually come up with workable solutions; they just have to cry for ‘more’. If they don’t do that, they aren’t doing their jobs (unpaid or paid). And Randy Shaw (the ‘mayor of the TL) (May 5) has said hoteling these folks will result in a big political embarrassment for the Dems around election time when it comes time to making space in the hotels for the reopened tourist economy (“you’re just going to throw them out on the street?!!!”). So there’s that.

      To my mind, trying to put that 10# of problem into the 5# bag that is the Civic Ctr is “just words”. They really ought to consider the Cow Palace, and other places in the SE (Pier 96?), that have space and that could reasonably accommodate rapid sheltering, and which might be good into the medium term.

      Reply
      • JC

        In addition to the large concentration of homeless/drug addict/SRO/non profit services in the T.L. SOMA, the one service provider that can’t be outsourced as easily in other parts of the city is the steps away massive street narcotics trade which is a bigger draw than even the services. The biggest reason why it’s been impossible to “solve” the homeless problem in SF.

        Reply
    • h. brown

      Scott,

      Hopefully, no limit at all.

      What would Jesus do?

      Go Giants~!

      h.

      Reply
  2. Bg

    Look at those tents in the picture. They’re all brand new. These are not our neighbors; these are transient drug addicts coming to sf to take advantage of our endless handouts

    Reply
    • Vicar of FILLMORE

      The new tents are not from homeless tourists who are coming for the wonderful street life of SF. The new tents, ~2000 of them, were handed out by people who care about the homeless and wanted to give them some measure of private space during a deadly and highly-contagious epidemic. The City’s practice of seizing tents before dawn went away during shelter-in-place. This makes the unhoused people on SF streets more visible. They’ve been here the whole time. Some got tired of living in their cars and working full time. Some lost employment altogether or were furloughed. There are loud and obnoxious homeless people just like there are loud and obnoxious housed people. We are all people and deserve some measure of compassion and consideration. Prop C (now tied up in litigation by SF’s biggest corps) would have offered PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTHCARE, housing options, counseling and navigation. The mayor chose not to support it the same way she has not supported the unanimous vote of the supervisors. The UN has called our situation “systemic and intentional” and some of the worst treatment of people on the planet. The City of Billionaires has the wherewithal to meet this challenge. What an opportunity to do the right thing and help people! I’m just as tired of the endlessness of this problem as every other privileged housed person. I can’t imagine how sick and tired our homeless neighbors are. My anger is not at them but at the super rich who will fight the will of the people (PROP C) until it wears out. I am committed to never wearing out, not as long as Amazon pays no taxes and billiionaire developers control public health responses in the City of St. Francis.

      Reply
      • Jake T

        Man what an incoherent set of swipes at people who have very little to do with the root causes of the city’s homeless problem. California has European tax burdens on income. So where are our public services? San Francisco has very few billionaires — most live down the Peninsula. So why won’t we annex those cities? Not only does the city have zero (0, nil) billionaire developers (you may be confusing us with the much better city, New York, or maybe John Arrillaga who made his fortune, again, on the Peninsula), but also the unions had as much to do with the public health reopening of construction as developers did. And the construction bans were a Peskin-led farce anyways.

        San Francisco is not a mere $300m of city spending from Prop C a year away from solving homelessness, even before the $1.7b budget deficit. To build homes for the 10k people on the streets, we’d need $5b even with a generous amount of state and federal subsidy. This ignores induced demand and equity concerns with stiffing the middle class who are also suffering and fleeing the city in droves for Sacramento and Nevada for the vulnerable.

        I could go on. Your persistence is certainly wonderful but you are far along a road paved with good intentions, and we all know where that ends.

        Reply
  3. Geoffrey Lippert

    The City “leadership” is pathetic.

    Reply
    • WIll

      The states 6 billion surplus has evaporated over the past few months. The homeless industry complex is going to collapse. Not the population to dump endless amount of funds in… we need to focus on functional people

      Reply
      • JC

        Collapse it will. Perhaps if there is a silver lining in Covid-19, it will be the 1.7 Billion dollar hit to the budget. Even SF can’t spend money they don’t have and as far as the non-profits who feed off the disfunction, it will put paid to the fiction that they are not taxpayer supported, however many steps removed they are from the real source of their funding.

        Reply
  4. aapi

    The critics are always going to criticize. But this looks like a good start.

    Reply
  5. Marcos

    Ungrateful and shameless moocher advocates. They whine about everything …nothing is good enough for their precious tent-dwellers. Of course if they weren’t caterwauling at every opportunity they wouldn’t be able to sit behind their keyboards and actually do something productive with their time. Most tent-dwellers are not “residents” or good neighbors fallen on hard times; many are drug addicted plagues on civil society. Help should be focused on those willing to go to rehab – that would be helpful to them and the real residents of the Tenderloin.

    Reply
    • W

      Those who wants to go to rehab doesn’t get an immediate slot. They are waitlisted until a slot opens up.

      Reply
  6. h. brown

    Campers,

    Just load 300 of the most needy on buses and and
    run them on down to San Jose where Sam Lacardo
    has 300 empty hundred grand or more new RV’s
    sitting empty.

    Maybe he can send us an exchange of 300-500
    folks to fill some of our empty hotel rooms.

    Anyone else thinking ‘scam’ here?

    Go Giants!

    h.

    Reply
  7. Julio

    The “Homeless” has become an industry.
    High paying jobs for the managers whose vested interest is to have as many homeless as possible.
    The humanitarian aspect disappeared years ago.

    Reply
    • Im*Perfect

      How much do you think managers make ?

      Reply
      • jean paul

        not sure, but at other non-profit organizations such as the ymca managers such as program directors the annual compensation is often in the 6 figures or at least close to it. on-the-ground workers, those who do the actual hard work, receive compensations beyond minimum wage but not enough to live without worries. e.g. in marin county that might be $20-$25/hr plus health benefits.
        there is a big gap between those 2 strata.

        Reply
  8. Vicar of Fillmore

    The City operates under a complaint-driven system to address “visible homelessness” and the selfish whining illustrated in these comments. The City is not addressing root causes of human suffering. We will still be one of the richest 49-square-miles in the world after this crisis. Billionaires that don’t pay taxes, corporations that call the shots for public health, housed people that have never reached out to help—these are the real problems, not the poor, not the unemployed, not the mentally ill, not the people who have no shelter.

    Why aren’t some of these comments designated as hate speech and taken down by ML? Mean and crazy people have taken over the federal government in a coup of deception, hate-mongering and misinformation. The comments above are cut from the same cloth.

    Reply
    • JC

      Another I don’t want to hear the truth, so i demand they stop talking “hate speech” screed. Trump won because half the country has had enough of being told by our self appointed moral betters that down is up and it’s raining on a sunny day. Time to take the red pill dude and see the real world. “There’s the way it oughta be, and there’s the way it is” Sgt Barnes, Platoon, 1985

      Reply
    • Robert

      Just because you don’t agree with some of these comments does not make them “hate speech”

      Reply
    • h. brown

      Julio,

      Lightening up.

      Have a hit or shot or smoke of whatever you prefer.

      You sound experienced am I and you know that almost all of these non-profits
      are staffed by saints.

      With scars all over their bodies to prove it.

      Every year the older heroes are replaced by younger
      (some in their teens) volunteers who care.

      Never for money.

      Go Giants!

      h.
      an

      Reply
    • h. brown

      Amen, Vicar!

      Put in very simple terms that go back beyond Oscar Wilde?

      “Living well is the best revenge.”

      So, simple then, Vicar.

      Just live well and piss em all off.

      I do.

      Go Giants!

      h.

      Reply
    • Jake T

      If we are so rich, why is the median rent paid in San Francisco under $2k a month, and where are our revenues from nearly a trillion bucks of property value appreciation in the last decade?

      In addition, San Francisco doesn’t have a particularly impressive billionaire count. Our median incomes are high because the middle class has long been displaced to Solano. But that doesn’t mean we have the wealth to solve regional issues.

      Reply
  9. Sandy

    Hello: I can only speak to the organizations I donate to in SF working at ending homelessness – as both a native San Franciscan and a homeowner. The folks that work at these orgs do not have fancy office spaces, far from it, and are not highly paid (though they should be because of the stress and heartache of their jobs working directly with clients). Have a listen to Joe Wilson from Hospitality House telling it like it is: https://sfpublicpress.org/news/2020-04/service-provider-homeless-are-always-%E2%80%9Clast-in-line%E2%80%9D-for-help.

    It is VERY important to remember that homelessness is not unique to San Francisco, so it being a SF problem is avoiding the bigger picture and just pointing blame instead of working towards real solutions. The people I know working ihn SF providing services to people who are homeless would love to have different jobs if affordable housing for all was available.

    “>> In only 28 counties in the country (out of 3,007) can a worker making the federal minimum wage afford a Fair Market Rent one-bedroom apartment.
    >> Median rent in the U.S. rose 61% between 1960 to 2016, while median renter income rose only 5%.” Source: https://familypromise.org/homelessness-fact-sheet/

    And as far as addiction and mental health issues we know that the Housing First approach allows for a sense of stability in a person’s life allowing for the greater likelihood of them acquiring mental health services and or treatment for their substance abuse. This again, is a national crisis not just a SF crisis and homelessness needs to be addressed nationally.

    Reply
    • jc

      I am native San Franciscan too and you lady are why we can’t solve the homeless problem. “working for real solutions” you must have memorized every homeless industrial complex talking point at all those “meetings” your friends in the non-profit world hold while they pretend to “work forward to real solutions” what a joke

      Reply
  10. h. brown

    Campers,

    This may be my thousandth or something similar post …

    Put all of the tents on Treasure Island!!

    That’s what the covenant the City signed with the Feds said was its first priority use.

    Suddenly, the streets would be empty.

    Is that a bad thing?

    Go Giants!

    Avalos in D-11!

    Gascon for DA in LA!

    Nguyen in SF’s D-7!

    h.

    Reply

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