As issues of homelessness and drug use continue to dominate political races and newspaper headlines BART officials are working to resolve one of the city’s hot spots for both. Civic Center BART, with its long spacious hallways and shelter from the elements, has long been used as a refuge from the streets for people experiencing homelessness who need a space to catch some shut-eye or use drugs.
It’s been used as such for years, but a rash of media attention — where journalists somehow snuck offensive phrases like “zombie junkies” past their editors — has forced BART authorities and local politicians to take action. Wednesday, Mayor Mark Farrell held a press conference to describe the changes he is helping enforce at Civic Center Station.
“We’re all here today because we care,” Farrell told a crowd of media while standing in a noticeably sparkling corner of the station. “We care about our commuters in San Francisco, we care about the residents that visit and work in our city, we care about the people and residents that live in our city. And, we care about civic pride. Civic Center and the BART station is at the heart of San Francisco. It’s the doorway to our city government and City Hall, it is the doorway to UN Plaza, to Market Street and midmarket, the growing heart of our downtown corridor.
“It has become unfortunately a glimpse of the homeless issues and mental health issues we have in San Francisco. It is not safe, and it is not acceptable anymore,” he added.
The answer, Farrell stated, is to up police presence in Civic Center station to five times what it is today. Through a collaboration with BART police and SFPD, officers will now spend a total of 500 hours each week perusing the station’s hallways and platforms, moving homeless people along. That’s the equivalent of more than 12 police officers working 40 hours a week just inside one station.
Captain Carl Fabbri of Tenderloin Police Station, which includes Civic Center Station in its jurisdiction, told SF Weekly that he hopes to use Tenderloin officers as much as possible to fulfill this role, as they know many of the people who use it as a refuge from the streets. But that depends on staffing capabilities; If needed, officers will be pulled from Southern Station as well to fill the hours.
Notably, SFPD is currently understaffed, and a large hiring operation is underway to beef up the force.
While pitched as something positive, the massive new effort to keep Civic Center free of unhoused people feels eerily similar to Farrell’s efforts this spring to disassemble homeless encampments. With no real solution for housing those living on our streets or resting in our BART stations, it appears that San Francisco taxpayers’ dollars are being used more and more often to simply move people from one place to another.