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