AdviceSan Francisco

Where are San Francisco’s Homeless People Supposed to Go?

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Guest post by Kelley Cutler Human Rights Organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness

I woke up that morning to a call from a woman who was living in a tent on the street. Through her tears I could hear the muffled voices of San Francisco police coming through the phone, telling her she had to “move along” or they would confiscate her tent and belongings.

We had spoken before. This woman is amazing; she’s a senior with extremely serious health issues and requires a wheelchair to get around and she leads Bible studies with folks in encampments. She is always telling me how her faith is what gives her hope and keeps her going.  This past winter her belongings and tent were trashed when she was forcibly swept from her camp on Division Street. And now it was happening again.

People forced to live on the street are constantly told to “move along”, but to where?

Over the last few months, I have watched this woman’s health deteriorate. How in the hell is a disabled senior who requires a wheelchair to get around supposed to constantly move all of her belongings? This is literally killing her.

It is important to know that there are a lot of ill seniors living on the street and when their belongings get trashed that usually means their medication gets dumped as well.  Imagine this happening to your parents or your grandparents.  This is how elders in our community are treated and it is shameful.


The walker in the back of the dump truck belongs to a senior who is a disabled veteran and who is experiencing homelessness.

Just as shameful is the highly controversial Tent Ban Ordinance introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, along with Supervisor Cohen, Tang, and Wiener, which is intended to go before voters in November. Using people experiencing homelessness as a political wedge issue, to feed hateful rhetoric against poor folks, has an extremely detrimental impact on our community. It is just sick politics.

This ordinance is ineffective because it simply maintains the status quo of shuffling homeless people around city streets using expensive resources without providing the key element: housing.  That’s right, the “Housing Not Tents” initiative doesn’t actually include any housing.

Supervisor Farrell wrote an article in the Marina Times where he stated “I strongly believe that it is not compassionate to allow human beings to live in tents on our streets; it is dangerous, unhealthy, and nobody is getting better by sleeping on our streets in their tents.”  I strongly believe it’s not compassionate to allow force human beings to live in tents on our streets either.  Too bad this ordinance does nothing to actually help people or reduce encampments.

The legislation claims that camp removal will only occur when shelter space is available and that shelter will be offered in every case.  Here is the catch: as of June 29th, there are 835 people in the City’s adult shelter waitlist, for an average wait time of five weeks. This could prioritize people for a temporary shelter bed based on complaints, bypassing the waitlist rather than implementing a fair and equitable process. Even more outrageous is that there are 7,000 homeless people in San Francisco, but only 1,200 shelter beds, so there is nowhere near enough shelter for everyone currently sleeping outside.

sf tents

image from SF Chronicle

So what would this ordinance provide?  It would add yet one more anti-homeless law on the books!  San Francisco currently has the most anti-homeless laws (23) out of any city in California. He knows we don’t need it, this law is just about political gain masquerading as legislative action by taking advantage of wide spread frustration with homelessness in the city. He said:

We are looking at an initiative to amend the police code… “[Proposed Ordinance- Police Code- Promotion of Safe and Open Sidewalks]- Ordinance amending the Police Code to prohibit the placement of tent encampments on public sidewalks.”

But, spoiler alert, it’s already illegal to have an encampment on public sidewalks.  The reason we have seen a proliferation of tent encampments on public sidewalks is because people have nowhere else to go.  We have a housing and health crisis, and lawmakers continue to attempt to address it with law enforcement.  That’s why the City wasted $20.6 million on “quality of life” violations this past year.  Our tax dollars are used to harass people with no options, rather than helping anyone.

The reality of this proposed initiative is that he’s advocating for what went down on Division Street this past winter, brutal homeless sweeps.  The “services” mentioned in it is a bus ticket out of town.  The 24 hour notice to vacate is cruel – if folks had adequate housing available to them they wouldn’t need 24 hours, they would jump at the opportunity immediately.  This is playing on the false dominant narrative that people want to live on the street, but the fact is,that people are forced to live on the street.

Don’t be fooled by meaningless slogans like “Housing Not Tents” – this proposed initiative is cruel.  I’ll admit it’s easier to say than “Actual Housing, Rather than Wasting $20.6 Million Criminalizing People Forced to Sleep on the Streets.”  Don’t let Supervisor Farrell get away with dumb slogans.

Call Supervisor Farrell and the four sponsoring supervisors and tell them San Francisco doesn’t want his hateful legislation and to RESCIND THE BILL!!!

Mark Farrell District 2 (415) 554-7752
Scott Wiener District 8 (415) 554-6968
Katy Tang District 4 (415) 554-7460
Malia Cohen District 10 (415) 554-7670
Mayor Ed Lee (415) 554-6141.

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  1. Sabbie
    June 29, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    The only solution has to come from the State level. Otherwise more services will create incentive for more homeless to come here, then the burden on the local taxpayers will create the incentive for us to push them out vs. providing help.

    • Overpaid
      June 30, 2016 at 1:19 am

      So Sabbie, you are aware that well used but erroneous idea that there is a pipeline feeding San Francisco with a stream of homeless kids and old ladies is kinda like sasquatch right? It’s been debunked time and time again, even by the people our idiot mayor has watching the situation quit drinking that Koolaid, seriously. The only people who believe that are the dumb and those right wingers who stay up all night trying to improve their ranking on SFgate. It’s kinda like that dimwit Trump claiming the President ran the marathon in the 1992 Olympics wrapped in a Kenyan flag. The number of people who’ve moved here because our public assistance is soooo much better than Bakersfield probably equals 4, statisticaly zippo. Why would they come here and be abused by the people who are sworn to protect them? Look, don’t fall for that bull shit, speak the truth.

      • Sabbie
        June 30, 2016 at 7:11 am

        Show me some hard data or quit your jibber jabber.

      • Sabbie
        June 30, 2016 at 5:51 pm

        Since you are too lazy to look up facts, I did it for you. From the 2015 SF homeless survey. The number is not 4 sorry. “Ten percent (10%) of respondents reported they were living out of state at the time they lost their housing. Nineteen percent (19%) reported they were living in another county in California. The reported reason for moving to San Francisco included accessing homeless services or benefits (22%), LGBT acceptance (11%), “Was traveling/visiting and remained here” (17%), and “other” (7%). So there you have it, almost a third came from out of town, and around a third of those are here because it is homeless paradise.

      • Frank Mendel
        July 1, 2016 at 9:33 pm

        “So there you have it, almost a third came from out of town, and around a third of those are here because it is homeless paradise.”

        By your own math, the thing you’re going on about is almost one ninth of the problem.

        I do agree that a state-level solution would be ideal. In the meantime, though, out-of-town homeless people moving in doesn’t seem that big an issue next to San Franciscans not having a place to live.

        “homeless paradise.”

        You might want to never put those two words together again if you want people take you at all seriously.

      • Sabbie
        July 3, 2016 at 7:55 pm

        A third is being very conservative. 37% were already living with friends or family. The 25% who came here looking for a job, are we talking software engineers or?? If you’re envisioning large numbers of long time productive members of SF society becoming homeless, I think you have a vivid imagination. There is plenty of affordable housing in America, you just have to move 60 minutes away from the 1% most expensive city.

      • deus
        June 30, 2016 at 5:53 pm

        I second Sabbie request for hard data. Emotional appeals and faux-outrage is so overdone they don’t do much for me anymore.
        Oh and lookie, Sabbie already obliged as I was writing this. Maybe “Overpaid” has competing studies?

      • Overpaid
        June 30, 2016 at 10:29 pm

        Jesus Christ can’t a guy go shopping with his wife after working all day without people coming unglued? Be patient I mean, while you may be sitting on the edges of your highchairs in anticipation of my response, I have things to do, sometimes. So, your numbers are the same ones I read, but of those 10% out of staters 17% came specifically for homeless services or 114 people. And they are breaking the bank? Please…. Of the rest there are as many reasons as one could count as to why they became homeless. My opinio, and it is only that, my opinion is that homeless in the micro sense is a byproduct of drugs or booze or mental illness but that doesn’tmake it right to criminalize them. At the macro level Ithink most of societal problems are brought about by unrestrained capitalism. But that’s just me and I’m overpaid. So Sabbie, I think you have a cheerleader in zuess here. Maybe ya’ll should get together get laid, might help with the misdirected frustratio.

      • deus
        July 1, 2016 at 8:44 am

        LOL I don’t know about Sabbie, but I’m usually not glued to any surface. And I only asked about hard data, noting that your comment didn’t offer any and Sabbie did. People come from other states AND other counties, meaning that SF IS attractive to homeless people because of our generous services and lasseiz-fair approach to quality of life issues.
        The end result is that we end up with a disproportionate percentage of homeless (with the sleuth of problems that bring with them) than other comparable cities.
        No one is criminalizing homelessness, just criminal behavior, just like we don’t criminalize poor people, just people who steal (not saying poor people=thieves).
        If you’re saying that the root cause of homelessness is unrestrained capitalism (something we don’t have in this country), I might agree to a certain extent.
        But that’s not what Sabbie is saying: s/he is saying that since our homeless problem is 1) aggravated by people from outside our city boundaries 2) has long become unsustainable then the solution must come from the state level, at the very least.
        Or, frustration will mount, as it has, and we’ll demand a harder line approach.

        And as far as cheer-leading, again, LOL. I’ll reserve my “misdirected” frustration next time a directed bottle of piss gets hurled at me, or I fail to direct my steps when I take a stroll in a shit infested sidewalk. Or my bike gets stolen again. Or my wall gets pissed on again. Or someone verbally assaults me on my way to work again because of drugs, mental issues. Or someone decides to leave a fat turd in the middle of the day in front of all people to see.

        So don’t worry Overpaid. I got plenty of legitimate frustration, and so do lots of people in this city.

      • Scooby Dubious
        July 3, 2016 at 3:14 am

        Actually,…NOT an “erroneous idea”. Other states give their homeless/mentally ill people one-way bus tickets to SF. They are literally dumping their homeless people here.

        I had heard that story for many many years, and I also thought it was just an urban myth. It’s actually true.

        here ya go…

  2. Stupendous Bob
    August 8, 2016 at 10:28 am

    Most of these people can afford to live in the places where they came from — like Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma — but they can’t afford to live here. 90% of these people come to SF from somewhere else. The Coalition on Bums says that these people “became” homeless while living in SF because they
    ran out of gas money when they were here, or they were crashing with a friend
    after getting kicked out of their last place for being a destructive drug addict. The answer is to have them go back to the place they can afford rather than expecting us to pay for their bad choice. There is no “right” to be a service-resistant street person.

    For the rest, Laura’s Law needs to be enforced. Those who are truly helpless, the mentally ill, should be placed under supervision where they can get help, or locked up if they refuse.