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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mayor Lee Says Outreach Workers Gave The Homeless “Alternatives” Before Telling Them To Move

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 2:47 PM

  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner

When I asked Mayor Ed Lee to explain his comment last summer that the homeless on the Embarcadero will “have to leave” during the Super Bowl , the first thing he said was, “Well, it’s not surprising that SF Weekly would take my words out [of context].”

Ooh. The claws come out. In truth, I was quoting him pretty directly, but I’ll admit that as far as mayoral burns go, that wasn't bad. Nevertheless: the question, Mr. Mayor?

Well, Lee admits that those who frequented Justin Herman Plaza and the surrounding areas have been sent elsewhere, but rather than the “street cleaning” roundups that some activists fear, he frames it as just a more geographically focused version of the city’s usual efforts.

“We’ve had hot teams out there working to give them alternatives. We’ve been trying to direct them toward the Navigation Center,” Lee said. “A lot of them have gone. We have encountered some individuals who said they’d prefer to stay, and yes, we told them they’d have to move elsewhere.”

But it’s no different from what the city does for parades or other festival-style events, Lee added. Which is true, although parades last for a day, rather than weeks or months. Sam Dodge, director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships & Engagement (HOPE), says that outreach teams began working right before Christmas, since the groundwork for the event was laid long before the actual Super Bowl City construction.

“There’s a fluid group of about 10 to 20 people who bed down regularly in that area, plus more along the margins,” Dodge says, noting that it’s appealing because it’s well-lit and frequently policed, but not a residential neighborhood. “About two dozen agreed to go to the Navigation Center. There were some hard cases — I remember three who got right up to the Center door and then walked away.”

But he insists there have been no arrests and no seized property. A Facebook video posted last week showing Department of Public Works crews allegedly running out a homeless camp on San Bruno Avenue is actually just the regular, weekly cleanup that DPW always does in areas with large homeless populations, Dodge says. The sinister-sounding moniker, “Clean Patrol,” just means that they clean.

There’s been a fog of war around this issue. The website Fusion interviewed homeless San Franciscans on Division Street who claim they were rounded up and relocated there in the dead of night. San Francisco magazine did a follow-up and wasn’t able to find a single person in the Division Street camp who complained that cops rousted them from the waterfront.

Meanwhile, more than $15,000 has been raised on GoFundMe to buy new tents for people whose old ones were seized by the nefarious Super Bowl cleanup crew — assuming such a program exists.

The mayor made his comments yesterday at a meeting of the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, updating them on his plans for a proposed department of homelessness. The meeting also included troubling, if ambiguous, details of the city’s forthcoming annual report to HUD.

Human Services Agency data estimates more than 7,100 homeless in the city — a huge increase from the city’s most recent homeless tally (a separate program from the HSA estimate of 6,686), and an even bigger spike from the comparably rosy HSA estimate of just over 6,000 that went into the most recent US Conference of Mayor’s study.

HSA analyst Stephen Adviento cited the high shelter bed occupancy rate (98 percent for family shelters, 89 percent for individuals, with comparable figures for transitional housing) as a good thing; it means most facilities are being used, and HUD is more likely to be generous funding programs that are utilized.

But does this mean the city is doing a better job of getting help to the people who need it, or just that there are more people who need help?

“It’s hard to tell from just the data,” Dodge admits.

Meanwhile, board commissioners pointed out that the HSA building on Otis Street, where yesterday’s meeting was held, sits only about 200 feet from an encampment underneath the 101.

San Franciscans have been getting promises and guardedly positive updates about the good works being done on behalf of the city’s homeless for so long it’s almost become white noise, but the visible footprint of the problem always seems to get worse. At some point, solution fatigue sets in.

And there are probably more than a few closet jerks hoping that the rumors of a Super Bowl roundup are true. Straightforward solutions are often stupid, but that usually doesn’t stop them from seeming appealing.

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Adam Brinklow

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