Mayor Plans to Enact Pointless Tent Encampment Measure

Farrell plans to break up tent encampments while 1,047 unhoused people sit on S.F.’s shelter bed waitlist.

Mayor Mark Farrell at a press conference Monday, April 23, 2018 (Photo: Kevin Hume)

A plan put forth by San Francisco’s Acting Mayor Mark Farrell this week seeks to clear the city’s sidewalks of homeless tent encampments — but falls short on offering them anywhere to go.

At a press conference Monday, Farrell announced that he would start implementing Proposition Q — which bans tents on sidewalks — “in a more aggressive way.” Under Prop. Q, city agencies have the authority to take down tent encampments if those living there have a 24-hour warning and a shelter bed made available for them. Farrell lead the charge to get the proposition on the November 2016 ballot — notably with a handy $49,999 donation from tech mogul Ron Conway. It passed 52-48. 

“You can offer services, you can offer shelter and housing to people and at a certain point, as a city we need to draw the line and say ‘this is a service-resistant population, we need to take down those tent encampments because they are unhealthy for the entire city of San Francisco’,” Farrell said.

It’s a powerful narrative but falls painfully short on fact. As of this morning, 1,047 people were listed on the city’s waiting list for shelter beds, which proves that although there are thousands of people camping on our streets, many are trying to find other places to sleep at night. As it stands, there simply aren’t enough places to house them, even temporarily. And, S.F.’s current shelters come with fiercely strict rules — no pets, no huge carts of belongings, and if you get in but your partner doesn’t, too bad. For many, making the choice to live on the streets with loved ones and pets is preferable to losing even more than they already have. 

This was glossed over by Farrell. When SF Weekly inquired as to whether any new resources would be made available for people living on the streets, Farrell cited the upcoming Navigation Center that will open on 13th and South Van Ness Avenue in a few months, and a newly-approved one set to open before the end of the year in the Bayview.

But, those two centers will only have 250 beds between them — and in the meantime, the Navigation Center at 1515 South Van Ness Ave, which has currently has 120 beds, is set to close in June. With 7,499 homeless people counted on S.F.’s streets last year, citing two Navigation Centers as a reason to destroy tent encampments is seriously downplaying the extent of the city’s homelessness population.

Offering radical solutions to our city’s homelessness crisis is not easy, however, and with only a handful of weeks left in office, Farrell appears to be taking the cheap way out, citing how “incredibly scary” tent encampments are for people living near them. “We have gone in San Francisco from a point of compassion on our streets to enabling street behavior, and from my point of view as mayor this is unacceptable,” Farrell said.

It’s a sad step away from former Mayor Ed Lee’s stance on homelessness, which we feared would fall apart after he died. Not one to shy away from creative means to addressing the crises on our streets, Lee was a champion for Navigation Centers, and made the ambitious promise to get 8,000 people off San Francisco’s streets by 2021.

In contrast, Farrell’s promises are vague.

“We’re building more capacity all the time,” he says. “This is not simply moving around from one neighborhood to the next. As we add capacity we’re actually doing that in our city budget. In the meantime, while we have capacity and we offer people shelter and housing we cannot allow them to keep on residing in tent encampments.”

But, we don’t have capacity. So in the coming weeks, if you witness residents of tent encampments being uprooted along Division Street and around the Mission District, don’t expect them to disappear.

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