A community meeting to discuss street conditions around the safe-sleeping site at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. devolved into accusations of defensiveness and prejudice. After 40 minutes, the three representatives of Dolores Street Community Services, the nonprofit running the site, walked out of the meeting.
The contentious nine-person meeting to discuss a 40-person sleep site encapsulated the difficulties of trying to fix a city-scale problem in a one-block radius.
Several city departments signed an agreement last week that promised the area more resources towards encampment resolution and outreach, but the fact remains that no city department can force people camped in the area to take services or leave the area. As of the meeting, there were two encampments on the site’s block, the same two from when Mission Local visited on Feb. 6.
“We can’t grab and arrest people,” said Santiago Lerma, an aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen.
This left residents wondering how the increased outreach to the area will change what their 311 calls have not.
“It’s the same thing we’ve been doing, and it doesn’t work,” said Lucy Junus, who lives around the corner from the site, on Shotwell Street between 24th and 25th streets.
Neighbors are also upset about the removal of unruly residents from the safe-sleeping site, leaving them on the street in the area.
“If people put themselves, others, or staff in danger, it would be negligent not to exit them,” said Laura Valdéz, executive director of Dolores Street Community Services.
But it would also be negligent to merely move them to another facility:
“We can’t transfer a violent person from one shelter to another,” said Emily Cohen, director of communications for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. So that means they end up on the streets and often remain in the area.
There was disagreement about how frequently this actually occurs. Yesenia Lacayo, Dolores Street’s Shelter Program Senior Manager, said that only two people have been asked to leave this year.
“So many incidents are worked through, so many people are not exited,” she said.
Both Cohen and Dolores Street representatives reminded neighbors that the organization is only responsible for managing the inside of the site. Though the meeting was about maintaining the area around the site, neighbors began asking questions about site management. This questioning extended beyond Dolores Street’s administration, to the lifestyles of the site’s residents.
“What is it that these people do all day? Crosswords? Watch TV?” asked Jane Perry, a Mission resident and member of the Inner Mission Neighborhood Council.
Valdéz called this statement “latent with prejudice.” She also accused Perry of being defensive.
“We have to be, we live here,” Perry rebutted.
Shortly after, Valdéz and the two other Dolores Street representatives exited the meeting, leading to calls for a new community partner to manage the site.
“I don’t want people who walk out,” said Francesca Pastine, captain of the Inner Mission Neighborhood Committee. “They’re not willing to acknowledge that their presence hasn’t worked.”
“Worked for who?” asked Lerma. “It has worked to house people.”
Dolores Street’s original contract with the city ran from Sept. 16, 2020 to July 1, 2022, at which point it was extended to June 30, 2023. Cohen did not entertain suggestions that the city break this contract, though Dolores Street and the city are currently working on a revised Good Neighbor Policy for the contract. Dolores Street will also need to have a 24/7 phone line for neighbors to call in concerns. More meetings are to be expected.
“This is not a silver bullet,” said Cohen, of last week’s agreement. “That’s what this table is for.”