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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Law Targets Camping at City Parks, Which Is Already Illegal

Posted By on Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 7:00 AM

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  • Happy campers

Last night, a collection of hardy souls bundled up in their warmest Tahoe-worthy gear and prepared to bed down in hipster playground Dolores Park. It's not clear how many stayed the night, though by midnight posts were still being made to Facebook from sleeping bags, one with the tag, "We're still here everybody."

The sleep-in was an act of protest, meant to be in solidarity with the people encamped across town -- the ones who sleep in parks full-time. Camping in city parks is already illegal, but a law up for consideration by the Board of Supervisors today would, for the first time, declare San Francisco's parks officially closed between midnight and 5 a.m.

If it becomes law, anyone busted camping out at Dolores Park or Golden Gate Park, for instance, could be slapped with a misdemeanor. Of course, those people would be horribly unlucky, as city officials have all but given up trawling city parks looking for campers.

San Francisco's homeless population has remained relatively stable over the last decade, which is bad news for politicians. Despite the fact that the city's homeless population could actually stay indoors on the city's or a nonprofit's dime, stagnancy among the homeless population has remained the same, and that means means something isn't working.

Nobody is arguing that homelessness is getting better -- and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who is widely rumored to be eying another run for mayor in 2015, recently went on record with the Chronicle saying that the problem is actually getting worse.

But how much worse? It's hard to say, especially when you stop collecting the data -- or never bother to start collecting data in the first place, which is exactly what's happened in the city's biggest and most populated park.

Golden Gate Park is huge -- its 1,017 acres big enough to hide an army or to temporarily house a city crushed by earthquakes and fires.

As big and as wild as it is, however, the park housed no more than 200 people in 2006, according to city officials. That number dropped to 50 by 2011.

That figure is handy, thanks to the "4 a.m. sweeps" led by San Francisco police from Park Station, who are responsible for patrolling the park from the Conservatory of Flowers east to Stanyan Street, which is roughly 10 percent of the park.

But the 4 a.m. sweeps aren't regular -- they only happen when police are available. If cops are too busy or understaffed, the sweeps don't happen at all, and when they do, the patrols involve no more than four officers who "mainly focus on the same homeless sites" near Alvord Lake.

The rest of the park is the responsibility of Richmond Station -- and they don't patrol it, a Civil Grand Jury report issued in June found.

As it happens, it's also the western side of the park that house chronically homeless people, with the eastern slice being the stomping ground of younger "transients" new to camping in the parks.

In other words, the city claims that the homeless population in Golden Gate Park has dropped, while simultaneously admitting it doesn't look in the places where homeless people are living.

You know what they say about taking that first step -- but if you are blissfully unaware you have a problem in the first place? No need.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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