Twenty-three tents filled the southern sidewalk of Stevenson Street on the stretch bounded by beleaguered Sixth Street on one end and the luxury shops of Fifth Street’s Westfield San Francisco Centre on the other. Furniture, rugs, tarps and bicycles filled the area, and clothes hung from hangers on a chain-link fence.
San Franciscans agree tent camps aren’t humane. But the city still hasn’t found a good way to deal with them2/4 SLIDES © Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle 2019
San Franciscans agree tent camps aren’t humane. But the city still hasn’t found a good way to deal with them3/4 SLIDES © Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
San Franciscans agree tent camps aren’t humane. But the city still hasn’t found a good way to deal with them4/4 SLIDES © Stephen Lam / Special To The Chronicle 2019
The scene screamed San Francisco, though no resident could find it humane, compassionate or safe. But what to do about it and numerous encampments like it has become a huge point of contention at City Hall, in advocacy circles and in debates among regular residents alike.
The controversial Healthy Streets Operations Center did diligent work that morning of Sept. 28 on Stevenson Street, cleaning the sidewalks, helping some people to move into shelters and loudly crunching discarded items in a huge truck. But, as usual, the improvement proved short-lived.
It’s clear these encampments can’t be left to grow without intervention. Sam Dodge, the new head of HSOC, said they’ve been the sites of fires, overdoses, sexual assaults, weapon use — and even people trapped inside homemade wooden structures with locks on the outside. Without sanitation, garbage cans or toilets, the camps become unhealthy places to live and can be beset with needles, trash and rats.
But it’s also clear HSOC’s work to keep sidewalks clean and passable often fails to do much permanent good and that its strategy needs work. For example, Dodge said the team has visited Willow Street in the Tenderloin on 24 days throughout 2021, removed 377 tents and placed 161 people into some form of treatment or shelter. Still, parts of the alley remain filled with tents.
I asked to shadow the HSOC team — which includes staff from police, public works, public health, the homeless department and other agencies — and see its work for myself after receiving copies of emails sent by Jeff Kositsky, its former head, just before he left city government last month. He’d clearly reached a breaking point, tired of listening to others disparage his work and wanting to defend it.
In one email, sent to a variety of city officials as they drafted a response to questions about HSOC from the office of Supervisor Dean Preston, Kositsky unloaded. Preston’s questions came after police arrested a homeless advocate during a sweep on Caltrans property in late July.
Kositsky said the city needs to “stop apologizing for trying to hold two goals at the same time: providing services and assistance to clients while making our public spaces safe.” He accused the Coalition on Homelessness of “repeatedly interfering” with the workers’ operations and even telling homeless people not to accept services and “just wait it out” on the streets.
He also said he suspects that 20% of the people staying in sidewalk tents are housed or have beds in shelters but opt to stay in encampments “due to the fentanyl and meth crisis,” implying they can access drugs more easily outside. “We cannot continue spending $100/night to shelter/house folks while using resources to clean up after them on the streets,” he wrote.
In a different email to Sebastian Luke, a man who lives near the often-tent-filled Willow Street, Kositsky called the incident on Caltrans property “unchecked madness that makes my job virtually impossible.”
“I am very sad about the state of the community I have called home for 30 years,” he wrote. “I am referring to the quality of public discourse.”
Apparently not willing to participate in public discourse himself, Kositsky did not respond to requests for comment via email before he left City Hall or on Tuesday via a text to his personal cell phone. Both Luke and the city official who shared Kositsky’s emails with me said they appreciated his hard work, perspective and candor.
But Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said the notion that advocates tell homeless people to refuse shelter and services is ridiculous.
“Why would we do that? We fight like hell to get them services,” she said. “We’ve been observing sweeps since (Mayor) Frank Jordan was in office, and we’ve never been accused of this.”
She said the only time advocates interfere with HSOC’s work is when it is breaking its own guidelines, such as destroying people’s belongings or citing people for not moving along quickly enough. She said advocates sometimes film the crews on their phones, which they could interpret as interfering.
The coalition plans to release a report Thursday about what it views as HSOC’s failures. Friedenbach wouldn’t go into detail about its contents but said the gist is that the crews move through encampments too quickly, take people’s belongings against city policy and place too few people in shelter.
She said outreach and cleaning is important, but that teams should move with more deliberation and hold deeper conversations with homeless people to ascertain what would truly help them. She said, for example, some people refuse large shelters because they suffer from mental illnesses made worse by being in crowded situations. It seems there’s more agreement between city officials and advocates than either side likes to admit, and that they could accomplish more by working together.
HSOC launched in January 2018 to respond to homeless encampments and urge people living in them to move inside. But it’s been controversial since its inception, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, with federal guidelines urging cities to leave tents in place if there’s nowhere for homeless people to go.
Dodge, Kositsky’s replacement, said crews always notify people in tent encampments in advance of work on their blocks, only require them to move if there’s a shelter space for them, and only remove belongings that are discarded or abandoned. The city’s normal shelter capacity is 2,100, but it’s currently housing just 1,354 people in shelters and navigation centers due to the pandemic and the need for social distancing. The goal is to refill the shelters by next summer.
On my visit with HSOC to Stevenson Street, the workers seemed patient and kind. Darryl Dilworth, an assistant superintendent with Public Works, said homeless people living there could decide what to keep and what to discard — and that a tent crushed by a truck had been soiled and abandoned.
A woman walking with a cane paused over a sprawling array of items, looking stressed. Dilworth told the crews to give her all the time she needed. Just then, a woman driving a white Tesla zoomed past. Dilworth said he’s even seen self-driving Waymo cars drive through alleys dotted with tents — perhaps the most San Francisco visual ever.
Down the block, Zarinah Williams, 42, sat against a wall. She said she’d been homeless for years and had stayed on Stevenson for a few months. She said the HSOC workers are “nice, easy people to deal with” and told her she could get a bed in a navigation center that night. She said she planned to call her three children, ages 10, 12 and 18, who are staying with her aunt in the East Bay later that day.
“I’ll tell them I got somewhere to stay inside, and I’m going to get a place so they can come visit,” she said.
The block looked significantly cleaner after the crews moved through. Dodge emailed later that the team placed three people into navigation centers and five into a shelter. Seven people declined services, he said.
But on Tuesday morning, Stevenson looked miserable. A woman screamed incoherently. Two people hunched over, clutching foil used to smoke fentanyl. Needles and piles of trash dotted the street. And a line of 15 tents once again filled the sidewalk.
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/san-franciscans-agree-tent-camps-aren-e2-80-99t-humane-but-the-city-still-hasn-e2-80-99t-found-a-good-way-to-deal-with-them/ar-AAPc6mQ2438