Trash on the corner of South Van Ness and 26th
Trash on the corner of South Van Ness and 26th. Taken Feb. 6, 2023. Photo by Christina MacIntosh.

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.

A tent on 26th St. Taken Feb. 6, 2023. Photo by Christina MacIntosh.

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.”

The facade of Borg’s auto shop, which is two different colors because he repaints weekly or biweekly to cover graffiti. Taken Feb. 6, 2023. Photo by Christina MacIntosh.

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.”

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Christina grew up in Brooklyn and moved to the Bay in 2018. She studied Creative Writing and Earth Systems at Stanford.

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  1. In response to Darren Borg’a comment, the Shotwell neighbors have to make petitions, because they have to live with nuisances 24×7, while Darren gets to go home after 5 or 7pm & is only at work M – F or M – S. I imagine if the nuisance was by his door step, 24×7, he would run a petition too.

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  2. A San Francisco resident wanting to shut down homeless centers and evidently also upset about weeds growing in the sidewalk? Who would have thunk.

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    1. I am the petition author. I never said anything about weeds in the sidewalk in our petition although if the City wants to make the neighborhood look nice, kudos to them. Any why not? Why do people think affluent neighborhoods should look nice and poc, immigrant, and low-income neighborhoods look slummy? Some one said recently, being poor does not mean we like to live in squalor. The issue is, our neighborhood became an extension of the Safe Sleeping area. The neighborhood looks good now because of the petition– once they heard about it, Ronen pressured The Dolores Street Community Services to clean up their act. Dolores Street Community Center regularly kicked unruly citizens out of the site and on to our sidewalks. Also, encampments grew on our sidewalks because people want to be close to the site to try to get into it or use its services or hang out with their friends from the site. Ronen’s assistant at the time said tents would be in the site, not on our sidewalks. Didn’t happen. Non-profits who run shelters have to set an example that they can operate in neighborhoods without causing harm to the residents. They should be good and responsible neighbors. In this way, perhaps the City will have an easier time building much needed shelters in all neighborhoods. It can be done. What Ronen’s office and the City are doing to create ACCOUNTABILITY to neighborhoods that host shelters is a good start. I congratulate them.

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  3. I talked to Francisca and other neighbors as well as people who are trying to set up more safe sleeping sites and they are all equally upset over the lack of progress that has been. So far no one’s circumstances have improved. Meetings bring together a lot of disgruntled people but nothing seems to fix the hot mess in the Mission. It is good to see some enthusiasm coming out of this one. I just drove by the area and saws no tents on 26th Street and barriers set against the 1515 South Van Ness building. A few people stood in front of them on the sidewalk. A successful cleanup here may convince the neighbors around 16th and Mission to accept a community of tiny houses, especially if the population is carefully selected.

    When the Plan Bay Area density growth program was introduced the authors of the plan admitted their plan would displace around 40% of the residents. Turns out they were right. Large numbers of displaced residents left San Francisco and the state and many more plan to leave soon. There are mixed reports on how many of the people living on the street are SF residents and who many are coming from out of town. At this point it may not matter.

    I am talking to people in the Richmond and the Sunset about documenting the changes they anticipate will come to their neighborhoods as rezoning for dense development heads west. SFMTA is already bringing street “improvements” that are closing businesses. Many landlords are pressuring merchants to leave and single family homes are on track to be torn down to make room for denser housing.

    What makes anyone think the Richmond and Sunset residents will escape the same fate that killed the downtown and eastern neighborhoods as they were gentrified? Certainly not the businesses that are already closing and residents making plans to fight or flee.

    We can only hope that a recent election that brought a new supervisor to District four may get the attention of more city leaders and they may start to listen to their constituents.

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