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Monday, April 11, 2016

After Police Kill Homeless Man, Mayor Ed Lee Declares War On Homeless Camps

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 4:01 PM

click to enlarge Fenced off. - SF WEEKLY FILE PHOTO
  • SF Weekly file photo
  • Fenced off.
Metal temporary fencing, the kind used by police to barricade crowds during a parade or a protest, now blocks part of the sidewalk along 13th Street underneath the US-101 freeway overpass. The temporary fencing is there indefinitely, a semi-permanent improvement to keep Tent City — the sprawling homeless encampment of as many as 250 souls that coalesced under the freeway during the Super Bowl — from returning.

The fence has worked. Tents have not returned to Division Street. Instead, tents have sprung up on Folsom Street and other residential blocks of the Mission. Tents have also sprung up on Shotwell Street, where San Francisco police officers shot and killed 45-year-old Luis Gongora, a tent resident who they say threatened them with a kitchen knife.

Since Gongora's death, Mayor Ed Lee has called for all of the city's homeless encampments to be dismantled and taken away, and the residents offered shelter — even though there is nowhere near capacity in the city's shelter system to house everyone currently sleeping outside in a tent. So in demand are the tents that a friend of Gongora's moved into his tent within a day of his death, as the Guardian reported.

Was it the camps that killed Gongora? It doesn't matter, as San Francisco is now setting out to kill the camps. Metal fencing may be coming to a neighborhood sidewalk near you.
MIKE KOOZMIN/SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner
The overpass Tent City was dismantled after it was declared a public health hazard (even though several deadlines to vacate the area passed before the tents were removed forcibly by Public Works crews). 

As Lee announced via the Chronicle's Matier & Ross, he plans to declare each camp in the city a health hazard — but only after shelter beds become available, and only after working with other city officials to determine "hot spots." (There were only 20 beds available at the new shelter at Pier 80, according to the Chronicle.)

Lee says he will "not compromise" on the camps' existence. First to go will be the Shotwell camp where Gongora died after a brief encounter with law enforcement — and where someone else was sleeping in the dead man's tent a day after the shooting.
Lee is in a tough spot. It's not his fault there have been nearly 7,000 people on San Francisco's streets for a decade. Homelessness has been an ill plaguing late American capitalism long before Lee became a politician.  

And homelessness has never been this bad for so many people. Despite the city spending $241 million on its homeless problem, according to some metrics, homelessness and street people are now chief concerns for many workaday citizens. The mayor must clearly do something.

But it's all a performance of sorts. Solving homelessness is an impossible equation — a real-life Kobayashi Maru. Like drug dealers, if you clear the streets today, someone else will be back there tomorrow.

Still, it's disheartening that the self-proclaimed city of innovation can't come up with answer beyond "clear them out, and make sure they don't come back." 

That "worked" for Division Street, which — while better than a row of tents, garbage, and human waste — is now a blocked-off sidewalk with metal fencing. Shotwell Street appears to be next for the fence treatment. 

The city deserves credit for some practical solutions. Faced with mounting complaints of human waste on the street, the city wheeled in portable toilets. Turns out people generally only shit on the street when they have nowhere else to go. And San Francisco currently has nowhere for its tent citizens to go. But we do have plenty of fencing.


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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Bio:
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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