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San Francisco is Still Confused on How to Handle Homelessness

Guest Post by Kelley Cutler from the Coalition on Homelessness 

I went on outreach down at the encampments today. The Sweeps are relentless these days… folks getting hit after just a day or two… told to “move along”, but there is nowhere to go.

My assessment of the situation is that this is connected to the new Command Center. There are multiple City agencies organizing a strategic response to encampments and so they are able to track folks better… and they are responding with Sweeps. In theory, the Command Center would help the City strategize how to help connect folks to resources (and at times it does), but the reality is that we don’t have the available resources. Sweeps, without resources, that are just to get folks to simply “move along” are extremely cruel. It’s a HUGE waste of tax dollars as well.

Every so often I bring out someone who’s involved in homelessness policy, like a City supervisor. If they are making policy on this stuff they need to see for themselves what’s happening and hear directly from people being impacted… hear from the folks the City is torturing with their Sweeps and bad policy. They are the true experts! Brought someone out today and he didn’t have time to run home after a previous appointment to change out of his suit. I cracked up when folks asked… “Who’s the suit?” I explained and folks were happy to share with him what their experience is like. It’s always eye opening for people. They clearly see how the status quo isn’t good for anyone. It’s also costing the City a ton! We could be using that money to actually help people, rather than hurt people.

We are getting more reports about SFPD cutting up people’s tents with a knife… or just knocking the tents down and destroying them. There is such an obsession with tents these days… the “visible homelessness”. I can see how SFPD and DPW workers could quickly come to a point of frustration where they choose to destroy a tent, because they are receiving orders to get rid of all the tents. The problem is we have a housing crisis, so no matter how many tents they destroy, if there are no resources to help folks, the tents will pop back up… or in many cases folks will be sleeping hard on the street with no protection at all.

I’m thinking we need to get our hands on a GoPro or something to get video footage of the cops cutting up folks tents. It would be good to get footage of the Sweeps in general because it’s pretty awful to witness, let alone personally experience.

One man was telling me how the last couple months in particular have been really hard when it comes to Sweeps. He said it’s hard enough as it is to stay warm and dry in the winter… and that’s when the City has decided to increase their Sweeps. For some sick reason the City seems to like to do Sweeps when it’s raining out. Do you realize how brutal it is to be stuck without shelter from the rain? It takes forever to dry out!

Water bad.
Source: http://www.wikihow.com/Stay-Warm-on-Cold-Winter-Nights-if-You-are-Homeless

Everyone was talking about the Navigation Center… asking how they can get in. I explain there isn’t a list they can get on, they have to be referred by City outreach workers. It’s a challenge that none of the service providers can refer folks. Folks feel like it’s just by chance, which in a way it kinda is. We know part of it is based on how many complaints the City is receiving too.

Others who have a bed in a Nav Center were reporting issues with the septic system, lack of food, harassment from staff, and the fear of getting kicked out. Even with those issues, folks would rather be there than sleeping on the street and getting hit constantly by sweeps. I encouraged them to connect with the shelter advocates, now that they are permitted to be advocating for Nav Center folks too (we had to really push for that to happen).

The “suit” seemed surprised by what he heard and witnessed today. I asked if anyone he met seemed to be “service resistant” like we hear so much about. He could clearly see that folks want help… one person even asked for something as simple as a parking lot where he could pitch his tent so he wasn’t subjected to Sweeps. He suggested the City let folks pitch tent at a location and then provide resources to help folks get into housing and other resources.

We all know the resources don’t exist, but it makes sense for there to be somewhere where folks can exist without being tortured by Sweeps. He said… “Then people don’t have to see us.” That’s heartbreaking to me. Housing is a human right and their rights are being denied. Having to “see” him isn’t the burden… this “visible homelessness” term is insinuating that his visible presence is the burden… the true burden is that he’s forced to live on the street.

As we were on the bus coming back to the Tenderloin the “suit” noticed a Sweep happening on South VanNess and Mission. Sweeps happening right as we are entering 5 days of rain. He said… “Look at how many officers and DPW workers there are!” All that for a couple tents (and people trying to survive living on the street). I could tell he was doing the math and thinking about what a waste of resources it was. And this was a small Sweep… he’d be stunned by one of the big ones!

This picture below is from the Sweep that happened last Wednesday. We were able to hold DPW off until folks moved their belongings… and no one got arrested. It was 4 pm and DPW workers were exhausted from working hard all day (they have a tough job!)… then they got called to clear this area. Everyone was tired, but the hire ups at DPW were throwing down orders. Everyone on the front line is being thrown under the bus. They all know we need to respond differently as a City.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

I've been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York, but to those familiar with my work, I'm just "that douchebag who writes books about cheap stuff and drinks a lot".