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SF moves to clear homeless from Civic Center BART station entrances

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Asisi Lazzaarius, (left) and Alphonso Gasdebum sit in the Powell BART station on Thursday, April 14, 2016. An effort to clear homeless residents from the areas around Civic Center BART station entrances kicked off this week. (Emma Chiang/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco city officials moved this week to clear homeless residents from the areas around Civic Center BART station entrances.

The Department of Public Health issued a notice on Monday declaring the areas within 50 feet of the entrances a public health nuisance because of issues including an alleged increase in drug sales and gave people 72 hours to vacate.

“We’ve noticed throughout the Civic Center neighborhood some unsanitary conditions that have led DPH and [Department of Public Works] to evaluate how we service and clean the neighborhood, so this is an initiative that we’re putting in to clean up the neighborhood,” said Jack Gallagher, a spokesperson for the City Administrator’s Office.

Police and Public Works Department employees will clear the area after the 72 hours has passed this afternoon, and then work to keep the area clear moving forward, Gallagher said in a statement.

SEE RELATED: BART and San Francisco may partner to help homeless in train stations

BART and Municipal Railway stations and station entrances are popular places for homeless residents to take shelter in a city where the demand for shelter space far outstrips available beds.

However, their presence can generate cleaning challenges, concerns about drugs and crime and complaints for the transit agencies and city officials.

SEE RELATED: Homeless czar argues for spending increase to advance SF beyond the ‘status quo’

One attempt to deal with those issues is set to launch this fall, according to Sam Dodge, deputy director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

BART and Muni are each kicking in $125,000 toward the cost of hiring two homeless outreach workers who will specifically target the four downtown BART and Muni stations.

The workers will not necessarily be clearing the homeless from the stations in many cases, but will look for ways to provide access to services and help them get off the streets.

“When people are in crisis, they look for places to be and these public spaces in the stations are a place where people go,” Dodge said at a special BART meeting held at the Powell Station this morning. “What they’re looking for is assistance, they’re looking for a quiet place to rest but they’re also looking for a way back into society.”

For law enforcement dealing with the homeless, outreach workers can provide one additional resource. Another resource that is expected to become available later this summer is a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD, which will allow officers to divert low-level drug offenders directly into a program providing services rather than into the criminal justice system.

“Often officers feel like they have no resources,” BART director Bevan Dufty said. “With this program they can actually take them directly to a service center to meet their needs.”

Speaking at Thursday’s BART meeting, Coalition on Homelessness executive director Jennifer Friedenbach said that recent efforts at the Main Library show that efforts to engage and work with homeless residents and provide services rather than kick them out and punish them can pay dividends in reduced problems.

“Key in all of this is making sure homeless people themselves are part of the solution, and they’re included when we’re trying to find solutions,” Friedenbach said.

BART officials said efforts to install “trespasser gates” at the Embarcadero, Montgomery and Powell Street station entrances have also paid off in sharply reducing the number of homeless people camping there.

Station modernization efforts at Powell set to start construction in the 2018-2019 fiscal year will also bring additional improvements there, such as changes in elevator access and improved sightlines that will reduce the number of places where people can hide.

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