Amid COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco’s Homeless Residents Continue To Face Uncertainty

Amid COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco’s Homeless Residents Continue To Face Uncertainty

Advocates are encouraged by City’s policy changes regarding tents, but questions remain regarding implementation.

San Francisco, CA – The City of San Francisco has purportedly issued new guidance to staff at Public Works, the San Francisco Police Department, and SF Recreation and Park amending its property confiscation and storage policies. According to guidance from the CDC, cities should “not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

“During this pandemic, unhoused individuals have nowhere to go. Shelters are full and the City is not adding individuals to the housing waiting lists. Therefore these changes bring much needed relief to our unhoused population. Unfortunately, based on 311 data, and what we have been hearing from the community, it appears that the City’s guidance has not reached all staff implementing the policies. For example, on April 9, Rec and Park threatened persons in Martin Luther King Jr. Park with citations if they did not move their tents. The City must do more to ensure that every staff member understands the policies.”
- Jennifer Friedenbach, Director of the Coalition on Homelessness

The changes are intended to ensure that unhoused persons can shelter in place safely without fear of having their tents and other belongings taken by the City. The City’s plan for addressing property issues related to encampments during the shelter in place order is:

  • Not taking or removing tents
  • Addressing criminal activity in encampments and on the streets – bagging and tagging property may be required if an encampment resident is arrested
  • Keeping encampments clean, including regular street cleaning and power washing
  • Collecting garbage from people living in encampments
  • Ensuring sidewalks are kept clear
  • Not allowing large encampments to form (over five tents)
  • Asking people to stay one per tent, if possible, and to keep tents six feet apart
  • Educating people on COVID-19

This information is posted on the City’s FAQ concerning COVID-19 and homelessness:

In the meantime, the Coalition is urging City officials to identify empty hotel rooms and other shelter options and move unhoused persons off the street. The importance of the City’s recent changes cannot be overstated.

“We hope that the City’s revised policies will ensure that unhoused persons can shelter in place outdoors safely, at least until the City provides additional shelter options. We appreciate that the City posted this critical information on its website and urge it to publicize the changes more broadly so that the community understands the new procedures.”
- Jessica Berger, Staff Attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid

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