Tents line the sidewalk along Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Breed unveils plan to address poor Tenderloin street conditions exacerbated by pandemic

City counts 268 tents in the neighborhood, a 285 percent increase since January

After weeks of complaints and even a lawsuit over squalid conditions in the Tenderloin which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor London Breed announced a plan Wednesday to address the challenges.

The plan focuses initially on 13 blocks of the Tenderloin with the highest needs and is expected to expand to cover an additional 36 blocks. It provides a number of draft recommendations along with an assessment of the existing conditions.

Recommendations include creating authorized places where homeless can sleep, such as in unused parking lots. One recommendation was to look at using the Great American Music Hall on O’Farrell Street, which is closed due to the shelter-in-place order, for shelter and restrooms.

There are recommendations to close lanes of traffic to create space to spread out those living in tents and allow pedestrians room to pass, as The City’s health order requires social distancing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. For example, the westbound lane on Eddy Street between Mason and Taylor streets is recommended for closure.

Those living in tents in the Tenderloin have soared by 285 percent since January for a total of 268 tents, according to the plan. The number of people living in tents has increased citywide by 71 percent since January for a total of about 1,200.

“This pandemic has forced us to thin out shelters and it has also required that we follow the CDC guidance to not disrupt homeless encampments,” said Jeff Kositsky, manager of the Healthy Streets Operations Center, at a press conference Wednesday. “The Tenderloin is by far the most impacted, hardest hit neighborhood in this current situation.”

The CDC guideline says that “unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.” The clearing of encampments can cause people to disperse around The City and break their connections with services, which increases the risk of spreading the disease.

The plan calls for increased cleaning around where homeless are sleeping and more outreach to educate about the need to socially distance.

The City said it has already started to implement some recommendations from the plan, like providing drinking water access by attaching what are called manifolds to six fire hydrants.

A sign hangs and holds water cups on a water manifold connected to a fire hydrant at O’Farrell and Hyde streets in the Tenderloin on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Next week, The City plans to launch a “Safe Sleeping Village” for the homeless to live on a section of Fulton Street by the Main Public Library in the Civic Center between Hyde and Larkin streets. The nonprofit Urban Alchemy will oversee the site. There are already “90 tents and counting” in the area and “the situation is extremely unsafe and unhealthy,” the plan said.

Kositsky, who helped with drafting the plan, said that the Fulton Street location will allow for 50 camp sites and provide services.

“We will be expanding to additional locations in and around the Tenderloin in the coming weeks,” he said.

Kositsky also said The City intends to start sending out about 50 people on the Tenderloin streets every day to educate people about social distancing, do some cleaning up and report back to The City any problems.

To come up with the plan, city departments surveyed the streets on April 28, assessed the challenges and drew up strategies to address them in partnership with people living in the area and nonprofits who serve the homeless, according to the Mayor’s Office.

“We are committed to ensuring our most vulnerable neighbors are safe and have access to the resources they need to stay healthy during this public health crisis,” Breed said in a statement. “By implementing this plan, we can help improve health and safety of everyone living in the Tenderloin.”

The report said that “additional input and collaboration from members of the community and city agencies is needed to deliver on these recommendations and to continually assess the health and safety issues in the community moving forward.”

The City said that moving forward it plans to develop a timeline for implementing the recommendations as well as compile “a list of lots, offices and other spaces that can be used to address street conditions.”

“While all neighborhoods have been impacted in various ways, the Tenderloin faces compounding, preexisting circumstances that COVID-19 has viciously exacerbated, including an increase in unsheltered homelessness, heightened congregating in permanent supportive housing, and a reduction of quality of life and safety for housed and unhoused residents, alike,” the plan said.

On Monday, UC Hastings College of the Law and others filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to compel The City to address the “desperate crisis” on the Tenderloin streets, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, expressed frustration that The City had let the conditions worsen to this point.

“The Mayor only released this ‘plan’ in response to the lawsuit,” Shaw said. “ A ‘plan’ was not required before police cleared sidewalks in other neighborhoods and it does not justify further city delay in equally protecting Tenderloin residents and workers.”

Supervisor Matt Haney has called for greater resources for the Tenderloin, including more trash receptacles and bathrooms opened 24 hours, since taking office last year and increased that effort since the pandemic.

“As the district’s supervisor, I am glad to see that our calls for action are finally being taken seriously and that there seems to be some movement in the right direction,” Haney said. “But what people here want to see isn’t so much an assessment, but action, and change, quickly.”

A homeless encampment is pictured in the Willow Street alley in the crowded Tenderloin. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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