EXCLUSIVE: Inside look at how SF stores items collected from homeless encampment sweeps

Luz Pena Image
Wednesday, July 10, 2024 3:24AM
EXCLUSIVE: How SF collects, stores items from homeless encampments
An exclusive look into San Francisco Public Works' operation yard where the city stores items collected from homeless encampments.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Rulings at the Supreme Court and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have made it easier for San Francisco to remove people living on the streets.

ABC7 News reporter Luz Peña got an exclusive look into San Francisco Public Works' operation yard where the city is storing the items they are collecting.

"This is a container that contains the month of July items and that is container B that contains the items brought in the month of June," said Edgar García, Operation supervisor for SF Public Works.

RELATED: San Francisco can now enforce laws relating to homeless sweeps following court rulings

His team is in charge of storing and documenting items. After every encampment sweep the city's street crews leave a note with information on where to retrieve the items.

"They take a picture out in the field or out at the police station showing what was picked up and they also take a picture of it in the container showing that it was brought back to the yard," said García. "They usually walk up to the front gate. The security guard gets their information, calls us."

People have three months to collect their things.

"90 days is better than no days," said Julian Highsmith, Policy Communication Director for the Coalition on Homelessness SF.

In December of 2022, a court order required San Francisco to follow its policies by offering shelter before citing or arresting people for not moving their things off the streets.

On Monday, that part of the injunction was lifted. So, with the sweeps poised to resume DPW is ready to continue storing anything collected.

RELATED: Supreme Court says city's homeless camping ban not 'cruel and unusual' punishment

The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness is concerned about the latest decision.

"Currently homeless people already feel under attack and the latest ruling just exacerbated that. I think it's common sense that if you have your belongings seized or destroyed you are losing a part of your humanity during that process," said Highsmith.

Even with legal challenges, San Francisco has increased encampment sweeps.

In 2023, records show the city's teams moved more than 1,500 people from encampments to shelters.

According to their data that is a 22% increase from the year before.

San Francisco said that the increase helped reduce tents on the streets by 17% in the last quarter of 2023.

Pena: "Do people normally come and collect their items?"

García: "Yes"

Pena: "How often?"

García: "It's hard to give an actual count, but I would say at least 25% of the time they actually come back to get their stuff"

According to Garcia they frequently store items for more than three months.

Pena: "After the 90 days what do you do with the items?"

García: "We dispose of them"

Pena: "What does that mean?"

García: "We send them over to the dump. We don't know what can be inside of those backpacks. So, for safety purposes we dispose of them."

RELATED: Why some of SF's formerly unhoused set up tents, frequent the streets again

García said their storing process is imperative to avoid mixing people's belongings.

"At the end of the day these are people's personal belongings, and they might be the only thing that they have. So, we want to make sure that when they do come to the yard, we can give them everything that was taken from them," said García.

To retrieve their items, people have to physically go to the Public Works yard and show their ID along with the tag left behind by the city.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here