The coronavirus pandemic was (and still is) a potential disaster for the homeless. In San Francisco, the city was forced to reduce the number of homeless people in each of the city’s shelters to prevent them from becoming hotspots for the virus. But doing that meant a lot more people living on the streets. In the Tenderloin district, the number of tents went from 158 on March 3 to 391 by May 1. Even the police officers who normally handle drug-dealing in the area were pulled out creating a defacto lawless zone, a homeless version of Seattle’s CHOP. And just as happened with CHOP, local residents quickly got fed up and filed a lawsuit against the city:
The suit alleges that by allowing sidewalks in the Tenderloin to be taken over by drug sales, crowds of drug users and homeless tent encampments, the city is threatening the health and lives of Tenderloin residents and helping drive merchants out of business…
UC Hastings College, which has several facilities in the Tenderloin District, says it has spent nearly $70,000 on increased security in the first month of the COVID-19 public health order along with an extra $2,100 a week in cleaning services such as power-washing and trash pickup around its facilities, according to the complaint.
“Litter and used needles are found every day around the Hastings parking garage. Human feces and urine are found in the doorways,” Hastings said in the complaint. “Staff have to escort the homeless out of the garage regularly. Thieves break into cars.”
The lawsuit wasn’t seeking any money, just action by the city. Soon after it was filed, the city sent cops back into the area and began making drug arrests but they weren’t clearing any sidewalks. Finally in June the city struck a deal with the plaintiffs, agreeing to clean up 70% of the tents by July 20. That day still hasn’t arrived yet but the city is already most of the way toward the goal after a three week push that took nearly 500 homeless people off the streets:
The Tenderloin looks better than it has in months, now that the city has removed 65% of the hundreds of tents that had covered the troubled neighborhood since the coronavirus pandemic clamped down on San Francisco in March.
The first phase of reducing the appalling crush of tent camps and moving their homeless occupants indoors ends Friday, city officials reported. It’s been one of the most intensive street-camp cleanups in city history.
The all-out campaign by the city’s Healthy Streets Operations Center and city emergency workers began June 10, and resulted in 497 homeless people being placed in hotels, shelters or safe sleeping sites, sanctioned camps with counselors and restrooms, city statistics show. A total of 431 went to hotels leased by the city to protect vulnerable homeless people from the coronavirus.
There are about 8,000 homeless people in the city and about 2,000 of them have been given hotel rooms during the coronavirus pandemic. But the manager of the campaign to clear the Tenderloin, Jeff Kositsky, said that other homeless people looking for a free hotel room should not show up in the Tenderloin thinking they will get a hotel room too, because the city doesn’t have enough money to offer them to everyone.
Supervisor Matt Haney told the SF Chronicle, “It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for the city to do its job and do what is right.” It shouldn’t but increasingly that’s exactly what it takes. In fact, another San Francisco neighborhood is considering a lawsuit against the city to spur similar action:
Curtis Dowlingis an attorney who represents Mike O’Neill and Sons, which owns two of the apartment buildings containing 174 rental units, and the Giosso Children’s Trust, which owns the third building with 31 rental units and one storefront.
“I will be filing suit this week in federal court, seeking an injunction that the encampment be removed,” Dowling said…
“The tenants in my clients’ properties feel like prisoners in their own homes,” Dowling wrote in a May 25 letter to Mayor London Breed. “It has gotten so bad that tenants are now vacating my clients’ buildings and specifically citing the encampments in the alley the reason.”
Icju Hwang is one of the tenants moving out.
“Early in the morning they play music loud,” Hwang said. “They fight and they yell. You can’t sleep. They block the way in and out.”
Here’s a CNN report which includes an interview with the Chancellor of the law school that filed the suit against the city forcing them to clean up the Tenderloin: