Homeless residents and their supporters gathered in the Mission district on Thursday to call for a moratorium on the removal of tents less than two weeks after Mayor Ed Lee vowed to sweep encampments citywide.
Specifically, homeless residents objected to the mayor using the April 7 fatal police shooting of a homeless man, Luis Gongora, who was living in an encampment on Shotwell Street in the Mission as a basis for the crackdown.
Instead, The City should use the death as “an opportunity to end the sweeps, to end the criminalization, the dehumanization of our homeless brothers and sisters,” said Julianna Cheng, who was pregnant and homeless in 2012 and has since found housing.
Officers say Luis Gongora was brandishing a knife, although some witnesses have contradicted that claim.
The mayor’s citywide sweep remarks — he has offered no timeline or specific housing plan — followed another sweep of hundreds of homeless tents along Division Street.
The City’s promised ramped up enforcement is particularly disconcerting for an already vulnerable population who say they have long been displaced by less publicized sweeps of smaller sized encampments for years.
“It’s really cruel to just keep shuffling them around,” said Cheng, who added that homeless residents have not been consulted by the mayor.
She called for “a moratorium on the sweeps” and focus on providing permanent housing. “Housing is a human right and it is being denied to so many in this city,” she said.
Last week, Supervisor John Avalos announced he was drafting legislation to impose encampment sweep rules, including a 15-day notice and a permanent housing plan for each occupant. The proposal would also temporarily permit encampments if there is no housing available and require The City to provide services like toilets and refuse.
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The Mayor’s Office has denounced the proposal, calling it a “formula for near-permanent encampments.”
There has been no large-scale encampment sweep since The City tore down the Shotwell Street encampment following the shooting, though city departments continue inspecting encampments and conduct cleanup. There are about 700 residents living in 100 encampments, city departments estimated recently.
The more visible presence of the homeless has increased the pressure on city officials to better address the issue. The mayor on Tuesday toured what will be San Francisco’s second Navigation Center, the Civic Center Hotel at 20 12th St., which will open June 1 with 97 beds.
Later that day, he addressed the Board of Supervisors, pointing to his new department on homelessness. Lee plans to include the department in The City’s budget submission due June 1 to the Board of Supervisors for review and adoption.
“We can make homelessness rare, brief and one time,” Lee said.
The Navigation Center models are designed to intake clients, provide them with services and then house them. To be successful The City needs an inventory of units, such as single room occupancy units.
The challenge of not only having an adequate supply of this type of very low-income housing but also preserving the existing stock was recently highlighted by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who announced plans this week to protect existing single room occupancy units.
This housing type has declined during the past 40 years by 14,000 units, from 33,000 units to today’s 19,135 units, according to Peskin, who blamed such factors as lack of building code enforcement. The number of units lost is twice the current homeless population, Peskin noted.