By Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer
As we enter summer, I want to congratulate all of our graduates and their families on their accomplishments and wish them the best of luck.
COVID-19 has changed the way we have operated as a city for the past three months, from the mandatory shutting of businesses to our personal restrictions on our social interactions and physical distancing. It has, and continues to be, a challenging time for not just San Franciscans, but the entire world. The Richmond is not immune to these changes as the district experiences closed and boarded-up storefronts and homeless encampments, something we have not seen in the past – certainly not to this extreme. While there are three encampments with approximately 20 tents in our district, there are more than 1,200 tents citywide. In January of this year, there were fewer than 400.
This increase in encampments is due to the City’s Emergency Health Order that follows the CDC’s interim guidance on Unsheltered and Homelessness and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for Homeless Service Providers and Local Officials: “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” Due to the outbreaks of the disease in our shelters and navigation centers, these congregate settings are no longer taking in new people, and the City has reduced shelter capacity by 76% to allow for physical distancing. While the City is providing hotel rooms and RVs for 1,400 of our most vulnerable people and is opening up two Safe Sleeping Sites, there are not nearly enough options for the thousands of homeless people in San Francisco. We all know that homelessness is a problem that our City has struggled with for decades, and as this problem has increasingly hit the Richmond District, neighbors are justifiably frustrated.
My office’s direct response to encampments:
• As these encampments began to form, I heard concerns from neighbors about cleanliness and public health issues – from those who are concerned for the unhoused people, those who are concerned about their own safety and security, and some combination. To address some of these concerns, I asked SF Public Works to install pit stop restrooms and hand washing stations at each of the three locations;
• I have visited each of the three sites, and have talked to housed neighbors, those living at the encampments and nearby business owners. I’ve met with the Homeless Outreach Team, and had several calls with our public health officer, the director of the Healthy Streets Operations Center, and I am in constant contact with SFPD getting updates several times a week from the captain at Richmond Station;
• Each encampment is now getting consistent police presence throughout the day. I have asked for more patrols between the hours of 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. Public Works is visiting the encampments daily and helping to clean up; they are also working with residents of the encampments to bag up and remove excess items. SFPD and the Homeless Outreach Team both told me that neighbors are dropping off donations of furniture, clothing, etc., which contributes to the clutter. The Homeless Outreach Team is also at each encampment daily;
• Encampments on our sidewalks are not in the interest of public health for housed or unhoused residents. I am exceedingly frustrated that ZERO health orders have been issued that direct the City with regards to our homeless population, and have communicated this frustration directly to our public health officer, who is the only person who has the authority to issue a public health order;
• The Board of Supervisors passed legislation in April to require the City to open up 8,000 hotel rooms for unhoused residents, as the majority of this cost could be reimbursed for vulnerable populations. As of May 23, we had opened 2,110 rooms and those rooms were only 58% filled. According to Richmond Police Station and the Homeless Outreach Team, the wait list for hotel rooms now approaches 4,000 individuals. To the dismay of the Board and public health advocates, it is not clear what is stalling this process;
• I introduced legislation to expand the model of Safe Sleeping Sites on City-owned property, including Recreation and Park Department property. These are sites that are fenced in, tents are spaced apart from each other, and supplied with toilets, hand washing stations, food, garbage pick up and 24/7 supervision. There was a lot of push back about protecting Golden Gate Park; however, when Rec. and Park has jurisdiction over a significant amount of land in San Francisco (11% of all SF Land) including parking lots, and a city-designated Emergency and Disaster site at Kezar, we must look at every possibility. It was never my intent to allow unsupervised camping in Golden Gate Park. The general manager of Rec. and Park and the director of Real Estate are developing an inventory of possible sites now and will be submitting to my office in the next week. There is a safe-sleeping site that has been established on Fulton Street near City Hall with guidelines, services, security and more, that by all accounts is working well. The City is setting up another site on Stanyan Street at the old McDonald’s parking lot;
• I have proposed to the mayor that there be a safe-sleeping site in EVERY district and many more citywide;
• I have proposed to the mayor that the proposed bond for the November ballot should include funding to purchase hotels that go out of business – a casualty of the coronavirus, but an opportunity for us to purchase these properties during a real estate recession. These hotel rooms can be quickly refurbished to be permanent supportive housing, reducing the time and money needed to build from scratch;
• I have also proposed to the mayor that we create a workforce training program for those who can be trained and employed in addition to offering them housing as a pathway to being self-sustaining;
• And, I am in agreement with neighbors that we need to be bold in moving forward a plan, as encampments on our residential and commercial sidewalks are neither humane nor acceptable.
Neighbors, as the world, our country, our city and our neighborhood begins to reopen to a new reality, we will need the help and support of everyone. We are not out of this yet, as many would have you believe. We are expanding testing for the virus and I am pushing for a testing site in our district. We have already lost neighbors to this disease and, while San Francisco has been successful in flattening the curve, the disease continues to be deadly and not contained.
I recognize that this experience has been challenging and also scary. And I know in these times we look to our elected leaders to keep us safe and make the hard decisions to save lives. I do not take this responsibility lightly. This is a district that has raised me, my husband and my three children. This is where my best, most beloved friends live and the well-being of this neighborhood is my first priority. Neighbors, we will get through this. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take more patience, more understanding and more tolerance in order to save lives. We have already shown we can do it.
My office extends its deep appreciation to all those who are on the front line: grocery workers, delivery persons, health workers, bus drivers, childcare providers, city workers and others who work hard for us every day. Neighbors, be well, stay well, go well.
San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer represents District 1. She can be reached at (415) 554-7410 or Sandra.Fewer@sfgov.org.