Homeless tent encampments: The right and wrong approach

STATE OF HOMELESS TENT ENCAMPMENTS

San Francisco is experiencing a crisis of homelessness. It is the number one concern of residents citywide.

One of the worst symptoms of this crisis are the tent encampments that are spreading throughout our neighborhoods — they are unsanitary and dangerous, both for the individuals living in them and for our residents who live and work around them.

Tent encampments have long been a problem. However, since 2013, the number of individuals living in tents on our streets has almost tripled. Rough estimates show that anywhere from 500 to 700 individuals are living in tents on our city streets.

Complaints from residents and small businesses about homeless tent encampments are flooding the city’s 311 help line. As of May 2016, 311 had fielded 7,000 calls about tent encampments, which represents a 55 percent increase since 2015.

Looking the other way is not only callous, it’s costly. Our Department of Public Works spends approximately $4.7 million a year to clean human waste and other debris from tent encampments. Our understaffed Police Department now handles roughly 11,000 calls a month specifically related to homelessness, with a growing number of them centered around tent encampments.

Caltrans cleaned 217 camps on state property in San Francisco from July 2014 to February 2015. Just one site near the Fifth Street Bay Bridge on-ramp forced CalTrans to hire hazardous materials teams eight times to remove used hypodermic needles.

The human cost is high. Alison Sparrow, 33, was shot and killed in a large tent encampment near 16th and Harrison Streets on Dec. 20, 2015. The day before, a tent in the same encampment was set on fire. And every eight days, another homeless person dies in San Francisco.

Nobody is getting better by sleeping in tents. We have a moral imperative to do everything in our power in San Francisco to help get the homeless out of these tents, and into a better life.

MISGUIDED PROPOSALS

Inside City Hall, the so-called “progressives,” led by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, favor policies that would lead to the proliferation of tent cities. Outside of City Hall, sane people would consider these policies misguided at best, and crazy at worst.

Supervisor John Avalos proposed that the city government provide running water and sanitation services to large encampments to make their stay more comfortable. Peskin proposed providing a free, city-subsidized affordable housing unit for any person who set up a tent on our streets. Supervisor Jane Kim endorses the same approach, and also wants our residents and businesses to wait 7–14 days before a tent encampment can be removed from in front of your house or business.

Personally, I have never bought into the theory that homeless individuals move to San Francisco because of the services we provide. But can you imagine the stampede if word got out that our city government would give you a free place to live, forever, if only you set up a tent on one of our sidewalks? I can guarantee you that this is not a vision of San Francisco’s future that any of my constituents shares.

These proposals illustrate the policy divide that exists inside City Hall. But outside of City Hall, in the neighborhoods, there is general agreement about how we should deal with tent cities. That’s why I wrote Proposition Q, “Housing Not Tents,” with the support of supervisors Wiener, Tang, and Cohen.

Housing Not Tents

Housing Not Tents will help move the homeless out of tents and into shelter and housing opportunities. The measure bans tent encampments on our streets outright, and mandates that before removing any existing encampments, the city must provide 24 hours’ notice and offer temporary shelter, housing, or paid transportation to live with loved ones in another city. We will also store an individual’s belongings for up to 90 days.

San Francisco must take a compassionate and common-sense approach to addressing homelessness. Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that it is not compassionate to allow individuals to live in tent encampments on our city streets; they are violent, dangerous and unhealthy places to live, and pose a public safety threat to our residents.

My vision for our San Francisco is to proactively move these individuals into shelter and housing, and focus on getting these individuals back on their own two feet. The status quo is simply unacceptable.
Come November I hope you will join me in supporting Proposition Q and vote to change the status quo on the streets of San Francisco.

This article originally appeared in the September edition of the Marina Times: http://www.marinatimes.com/2016/08/homeless-tent-encampments-the-right-and-wrong-approach/

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