Homeless park dwellers refuse city’s assistance

A corps of homeless people has moved deeper into Golden Gate Park, resisting attempts at providing them services.

Overall, calls to police reporting homeless people in Golden Gate Park have declined since 2008, records from the Department of Emergency Management show.

In 2008, there were 441 calls reporting homeless people in the park, compared with 401 in 2009. To date, police have received
272 calls.

The decline in calls is consistent with the drop in the number of homeless residents living in Golden Gate Park during the same time period. City officials estimate that in 2007 there were 300 homeless living in the park. Today, there are as many as 50, city officials said.

They attribute the decline to daily morning sweeps through the park, during which police and social workers cite homeless residents and offer resources and services.

Most have taken them up on those offers, but there remains a “hard-core” group of about 50 homeless residents who have made Golden Gate Park their home for 10-plus years, officials said.

Meanwhile, violence and vandalism linked to the transients last summer has spurred talks of shuttering the park at night and charging people with trespassing.

“I can tell you there are fewer homeless people, but does that mean we have cleaned up the park? No,” said police Officer Bob Ramos, who is part of the morning outreach-team sweeps. “It just means that the people we cited realize we are coming back again and they have hidden deeper.”

The lingering homeless residents tend to fall into two categories — they are mentally ill or they are substance abusers who are chronically cited, but never appear in court, said Dariush Kayhan, the mayor’s adviser on homelessness.

Kayhan said the outreach team is working with the Public Health Department to be more aggressive in placing the mentally ill homeless residents into a conservator program where they are brought into locked facilities and given involuntary treatment under the watch of the courts.

In the past five years, 10 homeless residents have been sent to the program, but Kayhan said he would like to increase those numbers.

“If someone is in danger to themselves or others we can … provide staffing to oversee that person’s care,” he said.

In addition, the outreach team is working with the District Attorney’s Office to pilot a new program for homeless residents who are chronically cited in the park. Often, these citations get dismissed, Kayhan said. Under the new program, offenders would get services when they show up to court.

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

Out on the streets

The City’s homeless population at a glance:

6,514: Estimated homeless population in San Francisco

20% Chronically homeless

31,661: Homeless and poor

40: Average age of homeless resident

Source: Mayor’s Office of Housing

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