Homelessness is now one of San Francisco's chief concerns. For weight upon city denizens' minds, the plight of our street people competes only with the high cost of buying a home, according to a recent poll conducted by David Binder Research. (After that, it was jobs, crime, and the high cost of rent as San Francisco's biggest issues.)
That same poll also found 60 percent of San Franciscans — at least white San Franciscans over 65, who made up the majority of the poll respondents — believe the homeless problem has become much worse. Another 33 said it has stayed about the same, meaning 93 percent of us think the homeless problem is at best not getting any better.
As the homeless problem worsens, life goes on — as does the removal of homeless encampments. Following the removal of the massive homeless encampment underneath the US-101 freeway, smaller camps appeared on nearby blocks in the Mission District.
And DPW crews, responding to citizen complaints, have dismantled several of those miniature tent cities, as the photo above shows — which they will continue to do.
In a real way, Tent City should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. Camping is technically illegal on city streets. And there is a real public health hazard created when people set up a semi-permanent shantytown in an urban area.
But it did. One day, one tent arrived — and then many others followed. So why did Tent City persist for so long? And what determines when individual tents get removed and the occupants “engaged” with city services (which they may or may not be able to obtain)?
It seems the city was waiting for something to happen with the main tent city. When it didn't — or when some campers chose to remain, rejecting offers of housing and services at Pier 80 or elsewhere — the city brought in the trucks.
Ours is a complaint -driven society, meaning a tent stands a better chance of being removed when a citizen complains versus when it's tucked somewhere out of sight. And since the city no longer has to deal with the spectacle of a homeless city, it's easier to respond to citizen complaints of individual tents in front of homes — and to remove them — without quite so much hoopla.
While pointing out the “real health and safety risks of street encampments” and defending “the need to respond to them,” homeless czar Sam Dodge said that nobody's tent is merely removed summarily — the occupants do receive visits from outreach teams, from people offering housing and services. All of those things $241 million a year of the city's budget pays for.
“We have had high levels of street homelessness for at least a decade if not the last 30 years,” he wrote via email, pointing out the success of the much-vaunted Navigation Center in the Mission (a model the city has yet to replicate in other areas.
“Working with people experiencing homelessness in this new way can improve tremendously but this is a direction that will bring results – actively engage with everyone on the street, connect them with the best option necessary to return to housing, build a system that accommodates the needs of those experiencing homelessness, scope the exits to homelessness to match the needs whether it is eviction prevention, shallow or short term rent subsidies while some increases their income, access to housing that is affordable for that person, or access to affordable housing with supportive services,” he added.
But if none of that is attractive and the person is in a tent? Away they go, if enough citizens complain. And according to that poll, they will.