S.F. Supervisor Scott Wiener: Homeless Tent Camps ‘Need to Go Away’

Pictured in early January, a homeless tent camp stretches along Division Street between Bryant and Potrero at the northern end of the Mission District. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener says the city needs to find a prompt and “humane” way to eliminate tent encampments that house a growing number of homeless people.

The growing presence of tent camps in San Francisco “represents our city’s failure to provide adequate housing/shelter and assistance for those who want help, as well as a failure to make clear to those who refuse help that tents on our sidewalks and in our public spaces are unacceptable” Wiener wrote in a letter last week (embedded below) to the heads of six city agencies.

“These tents are a public safety and a public health problem for the people living in them and for our neighborhoods,” Wiener added in an interview.

His remarks provoked outrage from one of the city’s leading homeless advocates.

“My chin dropped,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

“I thought it was in particular bad taste given how much people are suffering,” Friedenbach said. “He’s talking about ripping those tents from people who have no other choice but to sleep on the street.”

The tents give the homeless cover from the rain, Friedenbach said.

“Taking away people’s tents right now in the middle of these storms, that’s about as mean-spirited as you can get,” she said.

Among other requests, Wiener is asking city agencies for an estimate of how many tents are on the streets and the number of people living in them. While tents have appeared on city streets for decades, city officials say the number has grown in recent years and the onset of this winter’s rains has expanded their presence even more.

In the Mission alone, tent encampments have grown along parts of Division, Cesar Chavez, Vermont, 13th and 16th streets, as well as San Bruno Avenue.

That has increased the visibility of San Francisco’s homeless but does not necessarily mean a large increase in the population of people living on the streets. There were 6,686 homeless people in San Francisco at the beginning of 2015, according to last year’s count. That’s up 250 from two years earlier.

Sam Dodge, who as director of Mayor Ed Lee’s Office of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement is the city’s point man on homeless issues, says his counterparts in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle have noticed similar growth in tent encampments.

Wiener says he’s not talking about bulldozing the tents. Instead, he wants the city to create a plan to transition homeless people living in tents into shelters or other forms of housing.

“The tents need to go away as part of that process,” he said. “It’s not an acceptable state of affairs and we need to put an end to it in a very humane way.”

Wiener and other city officials say San Francisco needs more  facilities like the Navigation Center in the Mission district, a service center that aims to provide homeless people with permanent housing.

Supervisor Scott Wiener says a constituent emailed this picture of a propane tank inside a tent on a sidewalk near 16th and Pond streets.
Supervisor Scott Wiener says a constituent emailed this picture of a propane tank inside a tent on a sidewalk near 16th and Pond streets. (Supervisor Scott Wiener )

It makes sense that homeless people would use tents for cover from the rain, Dodge said, but they can make people living on the street more vulnerable.

“I’ve seen at least four different times where someone burnt out someone else’s tent,” Dodge said. “I’ve heard reports of women living in the streets and being assaulted in their tents.”

In fact, Allison Sparrow, a 33-year-old homeless woman, was an apparent homicide victim in a tent near 16th and Harrison streets on Dec. 18.

City officials say there are beds in shelters that are not always used at night that could serve homeless people now living in tents. There are about 30 to 90 shelter vacancies every night, Dodge said.

But tents provide space for someone’s belongings, where a shelter might not. Many city facilities allow people to bring in only two large bags.

“Shelter works for a lot of people,” Dodge said. “I think we need to really expand options for other people that shelter isn’t working for.”


S.F. Supervisor Scott Wiener: Homeless Tent Camps ‘Need to Go Away’ 25 January,2016Ted Goldberg

  • Annie Logg

    This article is old (2013) but it almost exactly mirrors what is happening in East Oakland presently. I’m a resident manager, my bosses are from SF, and literally they are going door to door, “buying people out” of their leases:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/05/world-cup-favelas-socially-cleansed-olympics

    If you want to avoid a “homeless problem”, I say have stricter property laws and zoning/development regulations at the top to avoid such rapid displacement in the first place-
    and free access to indoor plumbing/hot water/electricity, healthcare, mental healthcare, and dental on the streets. I’m imagining mobile/rv’s, which can drive in and out. More care= more accountability. For our entire population. You do realize: it’s not “them”, it’s US. Because we are all of us. People also need access to fun and beer. I swear to God! People need freedom to feel human- whatever that means to them.

    Human beings deserve safety, PRIVACY, and freedom. None of which are guaranteed in a shelter.
    To me, if you want homeless people off the streets, then give them squatter’s rights to land/buildings that are not in use- let them live, and make it the owner’s responsibility to upkeep. Here, check this out:

    http://squattercity.blogspot.com/2005/06/swiss-squatters.html

    Come on, if you own an entire empty lot in SF, or an empty building or 1/2 empty building for that matter, you have plenty nuff skrill to freakin keep the hot water and electric going.

    Meanwhile, people on the “fringes” of society will always be there, doing what they are doing. And thank God for that. It takes all kinds. This fact will never change. Nor will the fact that a society is only ever doing as well as its healthiest, poorest member.

  • DCJSSF

    Scott Wiener is a stain on San Francisco. Just imagine if he had been our supervisor during the height of the AID’s crisis. I imagine those tents would have been filled with AIDS patients, displaced by the same lack of rental protections that he supports today. The influx of homelessness is the result of legislation that Supervisor Wiener and his realtor backers have pushed. The man is no friend to the gay community…..he used us to get into office, and then had a fire sale in our district. I’m never surprised by his cruelty or his political exploitation of the most vulnerable. Scott Wiener Is a wedge issue politician.

  • If they refuse help, ship them off to Las Vegas or wherever they came from.

  • Dave

    Most of these tents are just cover for criminal gangs. No one lives in many of them. They are used as bike chop shops, drug and prostitution locations and for hiding and reselling articles stolen from vehicle break ins

    • JGSRELP

      They dont need cover for illegal activities. Im tweeted to SFPD regarding chop shops set up in plain sight and am told there isn’t much they can do about it. ie- ignore it.

    • James Windsor

      And Ed Lee and his gang are being corrupted for corruption, but I dont head you talking about that because they have money behind them. You are a loser.

    • ManTwo

      I don’t know about that man. I guess that is a possibility. But I’ve been down there, been through them. There are a lot of people living in tents in many cities in California.

      There are many complex problems with this, mental health issues, unemployment. But the reality is we cannot just allow this to develop, because there are public health issues at stake. In the middle ages people lived like that. In India people live like that. It’s not good for anyone. We spend enough money on services…to just rent these people apartments in fresno. I’m not saying that is the right answer either, but just tolerating people living in camps isn’t a good idea for society.

  • John Byrd

    It’s good to see Wiener trying to address the perennial homeless problem by providing proper shelter to people in tent encampments. Friedenbach should start working with Wiener instead of arguing that tent encampments are a good thing.

  • JGSRELP

    Every time I read an article that mentions Jennifer Friedenbach I want to slam my head against a wall. This woman profits off of SF’s homeless problem and doesn’t even live in the city. She never has any answer except to give free reign to anyone that wants to live on the streets. Its a ridiculous position and not really an answer. Maybe the homeless coalition needs some metrics to see if they are actually getting anyone off the streets. or just keeping the status quo.

    • David Troup

      I think Friedenbach is the President and CEO of Homeless, Inc. She works to ensure that we continue to have plenty of people living on our streets so she can keep the money rolling in.

  • Jordan Gwendolyn Davis

    Scott Wiener does not belong in San Francisco, he belongs in New Jersey, where his tepid, expensive, carceral liberalism would be well received. I told him when his bill to bring more police to SF came up for committee. Also, this is why I screamed at him at the trans march to get off the stage, and why I called him on his crap on his facebook, until he blocked me from posting (he couldn’t even post kitten photos without me calling him out).

    Scott Wiener is the prince of darkness, he is the anti-christ.

    • Bert Macklin

      you sound like you might idiot and from you profile picture confirm my suspicions

    • David Troup

      He’s the best Supervisor SF has had in years. And you sound like just a delightful person.

    • Get help.

  • Frank Mendel

    “The tents need to go away as part of that process”

    Since getting them into other housing would automatically make the tents go away, one is forced to conclude that by “part of the process”, he means “the very first part of the process.” Nothing else makes sense; if the goal is to get them other shelter first, why even mention the tents?

  • James Windsor

    Scott Weiner is a sell-out and a loser. All he cares about is MONEY. Self centered nobody.

  • The title is pretty darn misleading – it translates a fair and nuanced point into an insensitive polemic. A more accurate title would be “S.F. Supervisor Scott Wiener: Homeless Tent Camps ‘neither humane nor acceptable'” with which everyone of good conscience should agree.

    • Charuz

      But he also associated the area with a neighborhood that those living on The Other Side of the city would shrug off and move on, it’s at the bottom of Potrero Hill, under the freeway interchanges

    • john

      When the cops come at 4am to cut up the tents, as has happened in the past, that good conscience is worthless.

      • ManTwo

        Cops are dicks. But it doesn’t make what he said wrong.

  • If we built 1000 new beds in the shelters, they would be full the following month. If we then built 2000 more beds, they’d fill up too.

    • And?

      • Adding more shelters won’t eliminate the tents on the streets. It doesn’t matter how much more we spend on shelters, there will always be more people looking for shelter in SF. Is it our civic duty to accommodate every person who travels to our fair city and requests aid? Is there no limit to how much we can give, versus say Daly City, Palo Alto, Los Angeles or Phoenix?

  • Ayman

    I support putting an end to the Tent city and all the defecating & urinating on the streets of San Francisco.I have every right not to smell or step in their presents that are left to the rest of the City’s residents. Farmers market by city hall is a disgusting example as you buy food you’d have to smell and witness people shooting Heroin in broad daylight.

Author

Ted Goldberg

Ted Goldberg is the morning editor for KQED News. His beat areas include San Francisco politics, the city's fire department and the Bay Area's refineries.

Prior to joining KQED in 2014, Ted worked at CBS News and WCBS AM in New York and Bay City News and KCBS Radio in San Francisco. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1998.

You can follow him at @TedrickG and reach him on email at tgoldberg@kqed.org

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