‘Housing Not Tents’: A Sensible Approach to Ending Tent Encampments

Homelessness has reached crisis proportions in San Francisco. One of its worst symptoms is the tent encampments that are spreading like a virus in our neighborhoods.

It is not compassionate to allow human beings to live in tents on our streets. Violent crime, fires and the proliferation of rodents make these encampments both dangerous and unhealthy. Nobody is getting better by sleeping in tents.

The answer to homelessness is housing, not tents. The City of Saint Francis needs to do everything in our power to get the homeless into housing and out of these dangerous encampments.

I recently submitted the “Housing Not Tents” initiative for the November ballot because currently there is no law on the books which specifically addresses these encampments. Housing Not Tents will move homeless individuals out of tent encampments and into housing while mandating that temporary shelter or housing be offered to individuals residing in an encampment before removing it.

The acceptance of Homeward Bound — the City service that provides paid transportation to a destination outside of San Francisco when connected to a housing opportunity — would also trigger the removal of an encampment.

It’s important that we don’t just push encampments from one neighborhood to another. Housing Not Tents prevents this by getting rid of the encampments entirely. The policy would require that the City provide 24 hours notice, in writing, of the City’s intent to remove the encampment.

Under the new law, the City would be required to provide notice to all individuals residing in a tent and inform them of a specific available shelter or housing opportunity. We would also store an individual’s personal property for up to 90 days after removal.

My policy is not a panacea, but is a solution to one part of our overall homeless problem. We need to do more to address our existing shelter and housing capacity issues, so that individuals on our streets and in these encampments have a place to go. We need to do more to address the underlying causes of homelessness like poverty, mental health, substance abuse, and lack of job training.

The good news is that help is on the way. As Budget Chair, I secured an additional $13 million for new homeless housing and services in the upcoming fiscal year, and an additional $49 million for next year. Together, Mayor Lee and I are fighting to bring in $1.25 billion in new homeless resources over the next 25 years.

This long-term funding will create thousands of new homeless housing opportunities, enable new financing tools to create additional affordable housing units, and open multiple Navigation Centers, which can each serve approximately 750 homeless individuals a year. When the tents are removed under the Housing Not Tents policy, these new investments will ensure that the people that used to live in tents will have a safe place to sleep.

Like any sensible policy that challenges the status quo, Housing Not Tents has been met with fierce opposition in City Hall. Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Aaron Peskin have come forward with competing tent policies that lurch from the ridiculous to the just plain nutty.

One supervisor wants the government to pay for running water and sanitation services for the tent cities that have emerged. Another supervisor would guarantee free, taxpayer-funded housing in perpetuity to anyone who sets up a tent on our streets. This would guarantee a homeless population explosion San Francisco: overnight, thousands of new squatters from all 50 states would arrive and set up a tent, eagerly awaiting the keys to their new, free house in our City by the Bay.

Anybody with an ounce of common sense understands that it’s time to stop the spread of tent cities. Enough is enough. Encampments simply prolong homelessness, and Housing Not Tents is one key piece of an overall solution.

This piece originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 27, 2016: http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Farrell-asks-voters-to-OK-plan-to-remove-homeless-8425671.php?t=679f28708b00af33be&cmpid=twitter-premium