The Latino Task Force today proposed two-month effort to rid the Mission of dozens of encampments in an initiative called Proyecto Dignidad, or Project Dignity.
The multi-week plan would be carried out over longer periods of time than encampment clearings presently, and would involve assessing the needs of unhoused residents, connecting them with social services, and offering them permanent shelter.
“We are not here to talk in theory,” said Francisco Herrera, a member of the Latino Task Force and its Street Needs Committee, which conducted the report. “We want this report to be active, and to find solutions.”
Herrera said this differs from how unhoused residents say they’re being treated presently — as an “eyesore,” and not as neighbors. “The big difference is really, this identification of a person and their needs, and low-barrier access to resources and support,” he said.
Under the plan, an entire week would be spent on building a “health profile” of a person and understanding their backstory alone, compared to encampment clearings now, which remove residents, clean up trash, and offer shelter within hours.
The proposal follows a two-day assessment in which 80 volunteers surveyed 110 unhoused Mission residents. Volunteers found the top needs included housing, food, and resources in Spanish or indigenous languages.
Proyecto Dignidad, he said, is taking a page from a successful homelessness effort in 2012, when the city found shelter for 60 unhoused residents who lived in an encampment on King Street, or 100 percent of the encampments’ residents. The residents were ordered out following an encampment fire.
With the aid of multiple city departments and organizations like the Coalition on Homelessness, which is also involved in Proyecto Dignidad, all 60 residents moved into permanent housing or shelter within six weeks. The move didn’t require extra funding, said Bevan Dufty, who led the 2012 King Street effort as San Francisco’s top homelessness official.
Instead, it required more time to connect people to shelter and available resources, and the presence of community members who unhoused residents recognized and trusted. “Its success is due to understanding humanity,” Dufty said. Unhoused residents are “people just like us.”
Similarly, Proyecto Dignidad envisions a two- to eight-week process to move residents out of encampments and into shelter. On week one, encampment residents would receive a two-week notice that their camp will be cleared, giving them time to adapt to the change.
By the second week, an unhoused resident would have already undergone a clinical and needs assessment with a professional. In week four, residents would leave the encampment and move into temporary shelter, while city departments clear trash and clean the former encampment.
In weeks five to fight, residents would be placed in permanent housing.
The report, released Thursday by the Latino Task Force, said their plan contrasts sharply with sweeps in which homeless residents feel abused, lose their belongings and simply end up moving to another street and forming another encampment.
“We recognize that housing is a human right,” said Susana Rojas, executive director of Calle 24 and a Latino Task Force member who spoke at the press conference. “We do not punish our houseless neighbors by making their circumstances worse.”
Organizers are also asking the mayor to pay for two “human rights monitors,” to oversee camp clearings for this process.
Funding and housing remain the challenges to any proposal. It’s unclear how much funding Herrera’s proposal would need. Moreover, shelter beds and permanent housing remain scarce.
A Coalition on Homelessness report showed the city had only half the shelter bed capacity needed when offering residents shelter earlier this year. At a press conference Thursday, Rev. Monique Ortiz with the San Francisco Night Ministry noted how much easier it was to obtain shelter years ago.
“Now, with all these barriers, it’s impossible. It’s such a horrible feeling to have our hands tied and to not be able to truly get families, children, elderly, one night to rest their weary bodies,” Ortiz said.
At present, the Mission’s St. Mary and St. Martha Church has 53 available beds, which are not new. Herrera said the Latino Task Force is engaging with churches and other community groups to fill the need. On Thursday, Herrera spoke to a Mission day laborer looking for a place to sleep. Herrera hadn’t located an available one by the end of their conversation.
Still, city officials tried to be optimistic.
“I don’t find it to be terribly unrealistic,” said Sam Dodge, the director of Healthy Streets Operation Centers, which is a team that currently executes encampment clearings. “I think it just needs to be flexible to accommodate a wide variety of acuity and situations. There’s a lot of complexity about what happens on the street.”