The San Francisco campgrounds for the debate on homeless sparks between the Covid-19 outbreak

An aerial view of San Francisco's first temporary sanctioned tent encampment for the homeless on May 18, 2020 in San Francisco, California. The camp provides a sleeping area in a fenced-off space near City Hall with marked spots for tents that practice social distancing.

Frustrated entrepreneurs and residents alike, already under the enormous stress caused by the economic closure caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have found their patience tested as curtains sprout in the doors and human waste becomes an ever-present concern in some parts of the city.

Faced with lawsuits from some residents, San Francisco recently opened its first “Safe Sleep Site” in the shadow of City Hall, providing a controlled, physically spaced area where unprotected residents can legally camp in tents. A second designated site has also been selected which should open soon.

With the addition of the dangers of a virus that spreads unchecked in city shelters, officials have been forced to reduce capacity for the need to create physical distances, leaving many with nowhere else to go. And while the city has also secured more than 2,000 hotel rooms to accommodate the unprotected, the effort to create a longer-term solution has opened up a new battle between those tasked with solving the problem.

“It has already been very difficult. This has been our reality for many years and this is only making it more challenging,” said Kelly Cutler of the Coalition on Homelessness, a support group.

City residents are frustrated

Some of the city’s residents, however, are increasingly disturbed by what they see on the streets.

“It’s not safe. It’s not hygienic. Whatever is going on here is inhumane,” said Mike Abuyashi, a car shop owner in the Tenderloin neighborhood. “It’s like, you know, come to work and you want to focus on what you’re here for. Then you’ve got all the madness going on.”

An emergency ordinance proposed earlier this month that would require the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreational Activities to submit a list of city properties to potentially host sanctioned tent camps for homeless people, was met with fervent opposition.

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Opening city parks, including parking lots and other vacant spaces, for temporary shelter would help address the urgent need for space, said city supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer.

The parks department oversees 11% of the city’s owned lands, according to Fewer, who noted that other cities in the West, including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Eugene, Oregon, have also adopted the concept of safe sleeping places.

The “safe sleeping villages” have encountered opposition

Many San Francisco residents, however, filed opposition letters and the proposal was met with rejection by Senator and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who wrote a letter to the chairman of the board of supervisors Norman Yee on May 4 arguing that there are many other suitable alternatives to accommodate the growing homeless population.

“San Francisco has numerous options to deal with the serious shortage of safe havens: continue the mayor’s hotel program, enforce social distances and healthy conduct in group accommodations and shelters, and expand camper van and temporary shelter programs,” said Feinstein.

“This could include tents on unused parking lots and closed school yards, as well as public facilities such as Cow Palace and harbor ownership. These locations are available, have public services, and can be more easily restored to original uses than lands can park. . “

But the mayor’s office rejected Feinstein’s idea, citing concerns about the virus spreading through the city’s unprotected population.

“Because of Covid-19, many of the ways the city normally helps people get out of the homeless have had to be severely scaled down. Our reception capacity had to be reduced by 76% to allow for physical removal and as a result, they are seeing an increase in tents on the street, “said Andy Lynch, spokesman for Mayor London Breed.

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“We have announced two safe sleeping villages as a temporary way to provide security, sanitation and services to people in these camps and we are continuing to search for other sites that could work. This does not require legislation from the Council of supervisors. “.

Fewer’s proposal was finally presented this week after the city parks department indicated that it would collaborate with real estate officials to provide a list of potential camp sites – which could extend beyond the city park boundaries – by 2 June.

“It is time for San Francisco to look for a long-term solution to this problem,” said Fewer.

Cutler of the homeless coalition agreed.

“What I see is different are more tents, and that’s what the city calls” visible homelessness “, and the problem of visible homelessness isn’t the problem,” he said. “The problem is that people don’t have access to alternatives. There are no alternatives.”

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