SF Working to Unify Homeless Services in Face of Crisis on Streets

San Francisco is working toward a unified approach to homelessness under the management of a single department, but progress is not coming fast enough for many residents.

At a hearing today called by Supervisors Malia Cohen and Jane Kim, supervisors questioned city staff about progress toward unifying homeless services and policy under the newly created Department of Homelessness, announced by Mayor Ed Lee in December.

Intended to create a one-stop agency for transitioning homeless residents into permanent housing and coordinate efforts by different city agencies, the department is still in the early stages of development.

Trent Rhorer, head of the Human Services Agency, today said that while several departments work together to provide services to the homeless, none of them have it as their primary mission. A single department of homelessness, already common in other major cities, will allow for a more coherent policy approach, better tracking and accountability for spending and easier access to services for homeless residents, Rhorer and other city officials said.

Kim today said at the hearing that she supported the push toward a single city department to coordinate homeless services, but worried that there was no clear plan yet for what the department would look like or what it’s mission would be.

In the short term, the city is facing an acute crisis due to a lack of affordable housing, with tent cities and homeless encampments becoming increasingly visible in places like Division Street. Many speakers today called for the city to act quickly to provide more housing for those living on the streets.

The Department of Public Health on Tuesday posted 72-hour notices between 11th Street and South Van Ness Avenue warning those camping there to vacate the area, which had been declared a “public nuisance” and health hazard.

Department of Public Works crews have been cleaning up the encampments all week, while homeless outreach workers from the health department have been providing outreach materials and directing people to shelters including a massive 150-bed shelter that recently opened on Pier 80, according to city officials.

Homeless advocates have protested that those being moved out of the camps have nowhere to go, and in many cases are losing their belongings as cleanup crews move through.

“I want to get real about this, the 150 beds at Pier 80 are not going to be enough for all the people living on the street,” Jennifer Friedenbach, the coalition’s director, said at today’s hearing.

Supervisor David Campos, in a statement read at the meeting, said that he was hearing from many residents about the camps, but agreed that sweeps were not the answer unless the city could provide immediate housing.

“It is not humane to sweep people off the street and trash their belongings without giving them an immediate housing option,” Campos said today. “Moreover, this does not solve the problem, it just pushes people from Division and on to the doorways of our residents and the smaller streets.”

While several speakers complained about criminal activity, tents blocking the sidewalks and feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods due to the homeless camps, others said that they wanted to see the city provide better services, not sweeps.

Officials with Rainbow Grocery, a cooperative store in the area most heavily affected by the camps, today said they wanted to see portable toilets in the area, more garbage cans, more frequent street cleaning and better health services, as well as plans for long term housing.

“We did not ask the city to give 72-hour notice to the people on Division Street, we asked the city to provide specific services to the people on the street,” board member Jennifer Stocker said today.

Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, today said homeless outreach workers had contacted 43 homeless people on Division Street on Wednesday and directed 27 people to the shelter at Pier 80 or another shelter on Tuesday and Wednesday. As of today, there were 45 beds available at the Pier 80 shelter and 6 at the city’s Navigation Center in the Mission District, as well as others at shelters throughout the city, Kagan said.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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  • Steep Ravine

    Campos is out of his gourd.