When we previously discussed California’s program intended to move homeless people off the streets and into hotels, we learned that while they had indeed moved an impressive number of people indoors, it was still barely a drop in the bucket of the total homeless population. Some areas were failing to fill even half of the rooms that had been paid for. And even in the areas where the rooms were filling up quickly, there were still far too many homeless on the streets to accommodate them all.

With that in mind, San Francisco has been forced to look at other options. Mayor London Breed finally authorized the establishment of tent cities to accommodate some of the homeless population while dealing with the pandemic. She’s resisted such an idea ever since taking office, but at this point she apparently saw no other viable options. One of the new tent encampments is located right outside of City Hall on a street that’s been blocked off for this purpose. (Associated Press)

San Francisco is joining other U.S. cities in authorizing homeless tent encampments in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move officials have long resisted but are now reluctantly embracing to safeguard homeless people.

About 80 tents are now neatly spaced out on a wide street near San Francisco City Hall as part of a “safe sleeping village” opened last week. The area between the city’s central library and its Asian Art Museum is fenced off to outsiders, monitored around the clock and provides meals, showers, clean water and trash pickup.

In announcing the encampment, and a second one to open in the famed Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, San Francisco’s mayor acknowledged that she didn’t want to approve tents, but having unregulated tents mushroom on sidewalks was neither safe nor fair.

Mayor Breed is catching some heat for waiting so long to take this action, but that’s understandable. Setting up a bunch of tents on the streets isn’t an ideal solution for a variety of reasons. She was looking for other options, attempting to work with both the state and federal governments, but nothing of the scope and scale required was available. This tent city is probably the best they could manage, at least for now.

We also shouldn’t make this out to be a total disaster. They have the tent city set up with on-site security personnel to reduce possible crime and violence, things which regularly plague the homeless out on the streets. There are showers and sinks to help people try to sanitize against the virus. Drinking water and meals are also provided. It’s not the same as a hotel room, but it’s a significant improvement over the conditions most of them were living in previously.

But as I already said, this is not a long term solution. Hotels rooms are not a long term solution. Cutting off the root causes of people winding up on the streets as much as is possible is the only true solution. Not everyone will be able to return directly to a “normal” life, obviously, but some will if given the chance. Those who are homeless because of mental health or addiction issues will need to be helped through recovery or moved to appropriate care facilities.

None of that is easy and none of it is cheap. But if the state government is serious about addressing this issue, that’s what’s got to be done eventually. Otherwise this problem will only continue to grow. The number of homeless in California is already estimated to be more than 150,000 and that represents an 18% increase just since 2018. The system is already overwhelmed and there aren’t enough resources available to take care of them all. As that number continues to grow, all of the issues associated with huge crowds of homeless people will expand as well.