Following a report by this columnist that San Francisco failed its homeless citizens during a January storm, one city supervisor is demanding answers.
City agencies rolled out just 25 extra mats for 4,200 street homeless people during a record rain storm. And to add insult to injury, police also ordered homeless people to ditch their tents. In the rain.
Now, Supervisor Matt Haney wants to know why.
Haney, the newly elected representative of South of Market, downtown and the Tenderloin, has called for a City Hall hearing into San Francisco’s emergency response to homeless people who need shelter during “extreme weather.”
“I was shocked to hear that we didn’t have a robust and urgent plan to provide shelter to people who were outside in what was a brutal storm,” Haney told me Tuesday.
“The storm actually required the National Weather Service to issue flash flood warnings,” Haney added, “but didn’t initiate a strong response from our city to provide shelter.”
Responding to the police’s desire to see homeless citizens pelted by rain, Sasha Perigo of the SF DSA raised roughly $1,000 from her fellow democratic socialists and distributed tents to homeless people along Division Street and San Bruno Avenue. It took roughly five hours.
Yet after she and a bevy of volunteers finished their work, cops told the homeless to trash those tents too.
“It’s encouraging to see Supervisor Haney openly discussing the sweeps,” Perigo told me. “Homeless sweeps are not only immoral during periods of extreme weather, but confiscating people’s belongings and forcing them to move with a minute’s notice is a violation of our neighbors’ human rights.”
Now, The City does have a systemic response to house people in storms, called its “Cold Snap Protocol,” said Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. That policy wasn’t activated during mid-January’s storms because it didn’t reach The City’s requirements to do so.
“We’ve got a clear protocol: We do ‘this’ when ‘this’ happens,” Kositsky said. “In most cases when we implement these protocols, our beds aren’t being filled up, even with the outreach that we do and the transportation that we do.”
It’s that very cold snap protocol Haney is targeting for an overhaul, as well as The City’s response during extreme heat, and smoky air from nearby wildfires. (Remember when the SF DSA managed to hand out thousands more N-95 masks than The City? Yeah, like that.)
Though Kositsky said the shelters aren’t always full during a storm, notifying homeless people those extra beds are suddenly available is dependent on the Homeless Outreach Team being able to reach all of those people — and there are only about 30 people on the street outreach team.
I mean, is it such an outlandish idea to ask for volunteers from San Francisco to help reach out to the homeless when shelters open for the rain? HOT is a small but mighty department, but they can’t be expected to do it all on their own.
Really, the best solution might just be asking the cops to show a little humanity and relax their anti-tent attitudes when storms are set to sweep The City.
Expect these solutions, and more, to echo under the dome at City Hall soon.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.