Spurred by complaints from neighbors, five city departments have signed onto a plan to clean up the streets around the Mission’s 1515 South Van Ness Safe Sleep Site and the Division Circle Navigation Center.
A new agreement among the departments and involving the nonprofits that have contracts to run the sites details a plan to clear both garbage and encampments from the blocks around the sites. It also promises daily police presence and monthly community meetings.
Francesca Pastine, the author of a petition to end the safe sleeping site on South Van Ness at 26th Street, said she is optimistic about the updated commitment from the city.
“My preferred outcome is that this works,” she said. “Let’s see what happens. We have to see.”
What does she want to see?
“Some respect for the community,” she said.
The safe sleep site, which was established in August, 2020, is run by Dolores Street Community Services, and the four-year-old navigation center is operated by the St. Vincent De Paul Society.
The safe sleep site has 40 tent sites, and the navigation center provides shelter to approximately 180 adults. It is unclear how many of the tents and shelter beds are being used.
Emily Cohen, a spokesperson for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), said the agreement is the city’s response to concerns from neighbors.
The agreement states that Cohen’s department will work with Dolores Street Community Services “to add an enhanced good neighbor policy to their grant agreement.”
The seven-page document states that it was made effective Feb. 1, though HSH was still collecting signatures on Feb. 7, and there were three tents on the block of the safe sleep site when Mission Local visited on Feb. 6. It calls on the nonprofits that run the sites to step up in 14 different ways, including limiting referrals to the safe sleeping site to specified partner organizations, allowing 24/7 access to the site, and discouraging public drug use.
It’s unclear if the nonprofits will be able to adhere to the new terms. Mission Local was unable to get in contact with Dolores Street Community Services for comment on the agreement.
For the past several months, the Inner Mission Neighborhood Association, led by Pastine, has been circulating a “Petition to Terminate the Unsafe Safe Sleeping Area at 1515 South Van Ness,” which complains of graffiti, lack of supervision, public drinking and drug use, sidewalks clogged with trash, and a lack of communication between the organization operating the site and residents.
Not all neighbors of the site are as frustrated: Darren Borg, a service advisor at an auto shop across the street from the site, says he usually only has to report a concern to the city about once a month. He hadn’t heard about the petition, but said that “the neighbors on Shotwell are making petitions for all kinds of stuff, all the time.”
Salvador Barr, Director of Homeless Services at St. Vincent de Paul, which is in charge of the Navigation Center on Division, had no knowledge of problems associated with his site before receiving the letter in his inbox on Tuesday. The Navigation Center below the Central Freeway where Howard and South Van Ness meet is not situated as close to housing as the safe sleeping site.
“No complaints have come to my attention,” he said, “but I’m sure it’s motivated by something.”
Nevertheless, the area surrounding each site will now have several daily visitors, including outreach to the homeless from HSH’s Homeless Outreach Team, passing visits from SFPD, and street cleaning from Public Works, with a stipulation for “the removal of weeds and brush permeating from the sidewalk.”
In addition HSH will be staffing and participating in a monthly Community Working Group for nearby residents and business owners, as well as the District 9 Supervisor’s Office and the organizations.
Cohen says that HSH has struggled with the responsibilities of partner organizations outside of the sites they operate. For now, the organizations must conduct three daily perimeter inspections to collect litter and “immediately report” encampments outside or across the street to the HSH or the Department of Emergency Management.
Pastine believes the solution will require the city to stretch beyond cleaning the blocks surrounding these sites: “I’m hoping that all neighborhoods pitch in and build more tiny cabins,” she said, though she opposed the Mission’s tiny house project because of its proximity to an elementary school.
“This neighborhood has brought in a lot of services for people, rather than spreading them across the city, to equalize the burden.”