City officials report that the removal of a large homeless encampment from a Polk Street alleyway last week resulted in just six homeless people receiving shelter placements out of the more than 30 who lived there for months.
Authorities removed an encampment on Willow Street between Polk and Van Ness Avenue last week that was home to between 30 and 40 people, The San Francisco Examiner previously reported. Advocates for the homeless opposed the encampent’s removal, citing a lack of shelter beds for residents who would be displaced.
Engagement data for the encampment’s clearing, which city officials said began on Oct. 17 and ended on Dec. 4, revealed that despite city outreach efforts, only two people were placed in navigation centers, which are low-barrier shelters where clients are admitted with their pets, partners and belongings.
These centers aim to place the formerly homeless on the path to permanent housing. It is unclear how many navigation center beds were made available to Willow Street campers during the nearly six-week resolution period, but on the final day of the resolution last week, only one bed was offered, city officials have confirmed.
Four other people were temporarily housed in seven-day shelter beds as the encampment was dismantled. Again, it is unclear how many of these beds were offered throughout the resolution, but on the final day, 10 seven-day shelter beds were offered.
As of Wednesday, The City’s waitlist for single adult 90-day shelter beds had 949 names on it.
Advocates say those people who took the short-term shelter beds are likely to cycle back onto the street.
“In exchange for the seven-day shelter beds, you have to give up a majority of your possessions — that includes tents and survival gear. You can’t even pick up an ID card in seven days,” said Brian Edwards, an advocate with The City’s Coalition on Homelessness. “You end up worse off than when you came in. It’s an endless churn.”
Jeff Kositsky, of the Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, agreed the numbers weren’t good.
“Those numbers are disappointing and we have to do a better job of working with people on the street to help them get to a place of safety, because otherwise they will just go around the corner,” said Kositsky.
Reports published by HSH show that encampment resolutions, in which the homeless are prepared for the dismantlement of their encampments and offered viable alternatives, have had an over 65 percent success rate in the past in terms of people accepting shelter, he said.
On the other hand, data presented by the department over the summer showed that only 2 percent of clients who accepted seven-day shelter beds through The City’s Healthy Streets Operations Center (HSOC) — a recently created city program that coordinates various city agencies’ responses to complaints about homelessness —had “positive outcomes.”
“We had great successes in the past — we will try to replicate those successes,” said Kositsky.
According to Andy Lynch, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, outreach workers from The City’s Homeless Outreach Team and Street Medicine Team reported 222 encounters with people living in the encampment during the encampment resolution and engaged 159 people, meaning that offers of shelter and service were made.
Lynch noted that these numbers include multiple encounters with the same people.
A total of 14 people “received an assessment in the field” and were either added to The City’s list for housing or identified for housing status, meaning they “have access to a Navigation Center if available or Permanent Supportive Housing through Coordinated Entry,” said Lynch.
Coordinated entry is a new data-driven system that The City is in the midst of implementing. It is supposed to prioritize and quickly house the most needy residents amidst scarce resources.
“For the individuals who were identified for housing status but did not choose to accept the housing placements, they retain their housing status with HSH. We continue to reach out and try to bring them in to the system of care,” said Lynch.
He added that no arrests were made or citations issued.
Edwards, who supported the Willow Street campers during the encampment’s resolution, questioned the success of the process.
Edwards added that “for almost 50 people” who were connected to services, the small amount of shelter placements showed that while the resolution dispersed the homeless from the alley, it had little impact on resolving their homelessness.
Advocates for the homeless have criticized HSOC’s encampment resolution efforts for being heavily led by police.
“It’s guns and garbage trucks. It’s now normalized that a majority of the interactions with homeless people from The City are police-led and Department of Public Works accompanied — that’s not services,” Edwards said.