SAN FRANCISCO - ABC7 news is again joining forces with more than 70 other local news agencies for the San Francisco Homeless Project. It is a plea for San Francisco city leaders to do something about homelessness in the Bay Area's most densely populated city.
What would you do if you walked out of your house and found a homeless encampment? That's the dilemma many people in San Francisco are grappling with.
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For most of us, home life says a lot about the other life we lead outside. We feel safe. Secure, most of us, anyway. But if you live in San Francisco's Mission District and South of Market neighborhoods, they never take safe for granted. It's impossible for people with homelessness on their doorsteps. "It's part of life around here right now," said Greg Shuler.
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He showed ABC7 News that for him and for neighbors, a simple stroll through the neighborhood is always a reminder of the difference between those who have, and those who do not.
Fellow neighbor Katherine Kodama complained about the smell of urine as she walked past an encampment. "I know that they have no other alternatives, she said.
The lack of affordable housing has left the most venerable with few options, but to pitch tents on sidewalks. Thin pieces of fabric separate humanity from hope here. "I don't think they want to live there on the street, in tents," said another neighbor, Rebecca Steinberger. "I don't think that's what they are reaching out for and what their goals are, I think they are desperate and they have nowhere to go."
We asked Schuler, if he thought they were good neighbors. He took a long pause, and told us "No."
If you hear compassion, anger, frustration, resignation in these voices, you aren't mistaken. This is San Francisco after all, we want to have heart, but at what price?
"We are in a progressive city and we want there to be help and solutions for people, but at the same time we don't want people camping right outside of our house," said Schuler.
Like many of his neighbors, Schuler has voiced his concerns about the encampments using 311, the city's clearinghouse for complaints, but gave up for a lack of results.
An analysis of the city's own data found more than 3000 calls about homeless encampments in just the last month.
Case in point: This encampment in Garfield Square. An ABC7 news producer and his neighbors spent four months complaining about it, and there were more than 50 complaints in all. To read the 311 website, the city describes this case as closed or resolved, and yet we found the camp still there today.
This is not an isolated incident. ABC7 news followed up on other recent complaints. Again, the city described them as closed or resolved, a direct contrast to what we found.
The department of public works responds to most of 311 complaints.
Spokesperson Rachel Gordon told ABC7 News: "We don't clear the homeless encampments unless we are directed too."
DPW says its first priority us to keep encampments clear of human waste and debris. The department hauls away out as many as 2-tons of trash every day, and claims to respond to 5-percent of all complaints within 48 hours. "A lot of times what we try to do is minimize them, so we take away the rotting garbage, we take away the broken furniture, we take away the miscellaneous garbage that comes there," said Gordon.
So why, then, have so many frustrated residents like Greg Schuler given up on 311? "We understand people's frustrations," said Gordon.
Now, the department is acting on them. After we started asking, the city has enlisted the power of words.
DPW will now mark completed projects as cleaned instead of resolved or closed.
Even if residents don't see the results, the department still wants them to keep calling. "It also helps us know where we can focus our resources, I mean, it's not a secret where some of the encampments are in the city, but we do track them," said Gordon.
If anyone knows their whereabouts, Randy Quezada does. He is with the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. "We can't compel people to move," said Quezada.
The department is making some progress in getting people off the streets. "We work to build relationships with the people in camps to figure out what their needs are what types of housing options are going to work for them and stick."
But it's neither easy nor quick. San Francisco can wash away the stench, and for residents that may make their streets more passable, but for those living next to this, it is not the same as the problem going away.
"This idea that you can put up a tent just anywhere, at least anywhere in this part of the neighborhood and there's no consequences, whereas, certainly if I was to put a tent in front of a mansion in Pac(ific) Heights, that would not last for an hour."
In his case, it has been years.
Written and Produced by Ken Miguel and Wayne Freedman
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