SF crews making a difference cleaning homeless encampments, but here's what's slowing them down

Dion Lim Image
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
Here's what's slowing down efforts to clean SF's homeless encampments
Members of the SF Department of Emergency Management helping the homeless say they've sheltered over a thousand people in 2023, but have run into roadblocks preventing them from doing more.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Despite tireless efforts to solve San Francisco's unhoused problem, many are frustrated with the slow progress.

ABC7 News anchor Dion Lim joined a cleanup effort with members of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management in coordination with the Healthy Streets Operation Center to learn about what they're doing and what's preventing them from helping even more in need.

Along with the tents and piles of debris along Masonic Street between Geary and Euclid, members of these groups are working to provide services to the roughly 7,500 homeless in the city, half of whom are already in shelters.

"In 2023 we've sheltered more than a thousand people. We're out here every day," Sam Dodge of the Department of Emergency Management said.

Brittany Brandon of Public Works has been with the Healthy Streets Operation Center for five years. She and her colleagues team up with other outreach teams and first responders to hand out resources, sanitize, and provide education to the homeless. The hope is they'll accept shelter.

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"Overall in a week we can get twenty or twenty-five which is really good," Brandon said. "We have different resources, sometimes it's a tiny home, sometimes it's a room somewhere. It's up to them whether they want to take it or not."

Jose Torres of the city's Homeless Outreach Team has spent eight years building trust with those on the streets. He understands the frustrations of business owners along Willow Street, which ABC7 has reported on in recent months.

"I am calling the police every day, every single day the same thing nothing change," said a woman who works at a nearby restaurant adjacent to Willow Street.

"It just takes time," Torres said. "It doesn't happen at the snap of a finger, it needs to be worked on."

Brandon went one step further to explain how "over 50% say no, they don't want the resources....maybe the sixth time we get them to take resources."

One of the reasons for service delays is an injunction that was brought forth after the Coalition on Homelessness filed a lawsuit against the city.

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They alleged practices related to encampment cleanup violated the rights of the unhoused. Meaning the city can't enforce certain laws, such as sleeping on public property.

"It prevents us from cleaning the streets at fast as we used to," Brandon said.

While people like Brandon can ask the homeless to move in order to clean, it's not mandatory.

"If someone refuses shelter or refuses to move, there's very little that can be done," Jen Kwart with the City Attorney's Office said. "We feel this injunction is overly broad and really hampers the city's ability to address homelessness."

In the meantime, the continued outreach seems to have worked in the area of 7th and Mission, where fourteen out of seventeen people engaged accepted services. On Tuesday morning, a man Anthony who had previously camped out along Masonic accepted a tiny home.

"A lot of these guys are angels," he said. "They can't get everyone but they try really hard to make a difference."

So what is next for this injunction? The city has appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and will argue the case on August 23.

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