What Needs to be Done About San Francisco’s Tent City
Guest post by Jennifer Friedenbach from the Coalition on Homelessness
I met a woman the other day, one of the much maligned tent dwellers, and she told me how awful it is living outside. She is scared all the time, of course, us woman do like having our locked doors, and now she co-habitates with a male friend to keep her safe. She cleans hotels but doesn’t make enough to afford housing. When I read the some of the recent media frenzy over the weekend; the string of priveledged men calling out in awful ways – the tech bro Justin upset about having to see a homeless man outside a fancy restaurant, our former mayor bragging about spraying down homeless people with hoses, and a Chronicle columnist consistently misinforming the public about beds in shelters that are not available, I thought of her. I thought of how she told me how ashamed she is to be homeless and I thought how these articles must make her feel even worse. A string of men kicking her while she is down. There are all kinds of homeless people, they are not one monolithic class of people, but they do have a few things in common; they are too poor to afford a place to live, so the basic things like a good night’s sleep, electricity, bathrooms, and showers are hard to come by.
Now many would wonder how we got to a place where the folks seeing homelessness are somehow the victims, as opposed to the people who seriously suffering on the streets. There are some serious issues that tent dwellers face, and that should never be ignored. In order to weed out the vitriol, it is important to simply lay out some basic solutions. Tents are a reality as long as we have no housing or shelter available, and frankly we don’t have enough for everyone. (1300 shelter beds and just under 7,000 homeless people) Let’s get real and solve this problem.
1. Basic Hygeine Matters
No one on the streets is asking for a right to use the sidewalk as a toilet. We have asked hundreds of homeless people this question and they want a dignified place to use the restroom. That should not be too much to ask for. Lets make sure tent campers have access to a restroom and showers. Portables work and really decrease issues with poop and pee dramatically.
2. Make sure adequate shelter is available
People should be able to show up at Pier 80 to get shelter. The city is limiting access by referral. There are over 800 people waiting for traditional shelter that should be able to access the new shelter beds. Pier 80 is full of course (contrary to media reports), but city is slowly moving the number of beds up to 150. When new beds are available, let folks know, and don’t limit stays and create a revolving door.
3. Address the very real health needs of campers
As medical outreach teams can tell you, our campers have some very serious health concerns that do need to be addressed. Their health is deteriouting in the elements, many are developing addictive disorders and their mental health is going downhill. Many of these conditions mean shelter is an inappropriate placement. The city must ensure campers have there very real health needs met, and that they have housing in order to recuperate.
4. Expand Pier 80
Let folks use the massive parking lot in front of the pier to camp in tents. Let people camp there safely, they have plenty of room. Expand the numbers above 150.
5. Expand the Navigation Centers, make sure it is connected to housing.
The navigation center has been successful not just because pets, partners and possessions are allowed, but because there is housing at the tail end of the stay. That means turnover and more people are able to get off the streets.
6. Implement Best Practices from the Federal Government
The federal government has stong words for localities who are engaging in criminalizing and displacing homeless people who have no choice but to sleep on the streets. They call it cruel and unusual punishment and have released guidelines for sweeps. The basic component is that is the person is doing no harm, no obstructing passage or causing harm, they should not be displaced. Localities should instead find shelters and housing as a solution. San Francisco should follow these best practices.
7. Find a sustainable progressive revenue source for ending homelessness.
I know lots of San Franciscans think we already spend a lot on homelessness. We do, but a) there is not a lot of waste, lots of low paid jobs and b) it is only 2.6% of the city budget so you need to have a little perspective. Half the money is paying for housing for 6,000 people, which if we stopped, would double our homeless population, and most of the rest is spent on emergency, health and social services.
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Check out our recently released report in collaboration with SRO Families United