San Francisco voters will decide in November whether to ban homeless encampments and empower police officers to remove them within 24 hours.
In an effort reminiscent of the 2010 voter-approved sit-lie law, Supervisor Mark Farrell has placed on the November ballot a measure that would amend the police code to make it illegal “to place an encampment on a public sidewalk.”
Police would have the authority to remove an encampment after giving 24-hour notice and offering shelter options. There are other laws that prohibit such behavior, like the health code, but this would be “a policy directly on point that addresses the issue,” Farrell said.
The measure was placed on the ballot with the support of supervisors Scott Wiener, Katy Tang and Malia Cohen.
Tuesday was the deadline for Mayor Ed Lee and board members to place a measure on the ballot with four signatures. The encampment measure was among five in total, addressing everything from affordable housing developments to soda taxes.
The encampment proposal was criticized by homeless advocates. Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Homeless Coalition, said it fails to make strong enough connections to solutions for those homeless and called it “fodder for people’s political campaigns.”
Farrell denied the measure is motivated by the upcoming election season. “This issue is important enough that the voters of San Francisco should weigh in,” he said.
The measure comes amid a highly charged political environment. In November, Board of Supervisors elections will determine whether a progressive majority will remain on the board, counterbalancing the more moderate mayor and his allies.
There is also a hotly contested race for the District 11 Senate seat between supervisors Jane Kim and Wiener. Wiener has already criticized Kim for her support of a “right to rest” state law. Despite the criticism, Kim leads Wiener in the June primary.
“This is not housing. It is a political move,” said Supervisor John Avalos.
Calling it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Avalos refuted supporters’ claim there are adequate housing resources. “Everyone knows that is not the case. It’s not a humane approach.”
Farrell agreed there was a shortage of resources, but said The City is making a large investment in homeless services in the upcoming fiscal year.
The ballot measure comes amid increasing pressure on elected officials to respond to the homeless issue. Just last week, the board unanimously approved legislation mandating the creation of six Navigation Centers within two years.
Mayor Lee has also created a new homeless department, headed by Jeff Kositsky. But Farrell said he didn’t talk to Kositsky about it. “Jeff has his hands full,” Farrell said. “We all have different policy ideas.”
In a text message, Kositsky said, “Haven’t read it.”
Avalos had been working on a different approach to homeless encampments. In discussions with the Homeless Coalition, he has been drafting legislation that would impose strict guidelines on any sweeps of encampments. That would include a 15-day notice and a plan to house those living in encampments before the sites were cleared.
Under Farrell’s measure, police would need to give 24-hour notice before clearing an encampment and also offer housing, shelter and homeless services.
The City could not enforce the prohibition of encampments “unless there is available housing or shelter,” the measure says.
Personal belongings seized when removing the encampment would need be to stored with the Department of Public Works for at least 90 days. The City would also be required to post a notice of an encampment removal, stating the location, date and time, description of what was removed and how to reclaim the items.