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Homeless advocates claim April sweeps led to more encampment complaints

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Police and fire officials respond to a homeless encampment at Division and Florida streets as Department of Public Works crews conduct homeless sweeps on April 25, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Homeless advocates in San Francisco claim a city-ordered sweep of encampments in the Mission District last month had little impact on reducing complaints about tents in the area.

The April 25 operation reduced the number of tents from 126 to 17 in the Mission and resulted in just six temporary shelter placements, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner. Days earlier, Mayor Mark Farrell announced that The City would be implementing Proposition Q — a tent ban that was approved by voters in 2016 — in a “more aggressive way,” particularly targeting homeless campers whom he labeled as “service resistant.”

But advocates from the Coalition on Homelessness on Thursday said analysis of complaints about tent encampments recorded by The City’s 311 reporting service found the operation was ineffective in both removing campers from the streets and in reducing complaints about encampments.

SEE RELATED: After major Mission District sweeps, city placed just 6 in homeless shelters

The coalition evaluated nine weeks of 311 entries specifically about encampments — comparing the month before the April 25 sweep to the month after — and found complaints spiked throughout The City from 4,699 to 5,399. In the Mission, complaints increased by 8 percent from 1,073 to 1,166, according to the coalition.

The San Francisco Examiner was not able to independently analyze the data.

In a statement published Thursday, the coalition said the Mission “[at]t the very least … should have seen a near elimination of complaints given the relentless nature of police action in that neighborhood if Mayor Farrell’s stated goals were met or if sweeps are at all an effective way to rid the city of tents. Instead, the City now is in the situation of needing to respond to even more complaints overall.”

City officials on Thursday questioned the validity of the data.

Farrell called the April 25 operation in the Mission an “encampment resolution,” and said the area was subject to a “10-month, long-term outreach program that was working to help move people indoors every time there was an encampment cleaning or resolution.”

“No person should be living in a tent on our streets. It is unsafe and unhealthy for the individuals living in them and for surrounding neighbors and business,” Farrell said in a statement, adding that his priority as mayor is to “address and reduce our going homeless crisis. Farrell added that The City is investing nearly $30 million in “new homelessness services, shelter, and housing opportunities.”

SEE RELATED: ‘They don’t have a place for us’: City clears out Mission tent encampments

The 311 data, which is publicly available online, also shows increases in complaints in all neighborhoods except for District 8, where they decreased by 3 percent, according to the coalition. In neighborhoods surrounding the Mission — the Tenderloin, Excelsior and Bayview — complaints reportedly spiked by 22 percent, 8 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

The coalition attributed at least some of the spike in complaints to encampment residents having been “pushed from industrial and out-of-the-way spaces into residential areas,” which “has led to increased complaints from housed residents.”

A member of the coalition noted that each complaint recorded in the timeframe that was analyzed was counted individually, even if multiple complaints were made about the same encampment or by the same complainant, because the coalition views each as “relevant or new, even if they were related to prior complaints.”

Randy Quezada, spokesperson for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said a second Navigation Center for the homeless opened in the neighborhood last June, and Mission campers whose encampments had been targeted for resolution were moved into that center. He also said The City resolved five large encampments prior to the sweep.

Quezada added that 50 additional shelter slots were made available for the April 25 action.

Kelley Cutler, a human rights organizer with the coalition, said that resolutions are led by social workers and are “a good thing,” but that the April 25 sweep was not.

“This really was going back to old strategies of doing big sweeps because the focus is on tents and not on the real issue,” she said, noting that the 50 additional shelter slots that were provided were capped at seven days.

Cutler said that part of the problem is that “there is really no place for people to go,” and because of a lack of resources, housing offers are rare. As of May 24, 1,049 people were on the waitlist for overnight adult shelter beds.

Cutler said at least some of the apparent increase in complaints might be due to media attention to the sweeps and homelessness.

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