Mayor Gavin Newsom experienced firsthand Thursday morning that outreach efforts to some hard-core homeless in Golden Gate Park are failing.
During a Project Homeless Connect event near Hippie Hill, an area on the eastern end of the park where transients are known to gather only a field away from a children’s playground, the mayor tried — in some cases unsuccessfully — to persuade habitual park campers to utilize the housing and health services offered by The City.
“We met a guy [who’s received] 52 citations,” Newsom told The Examiner in an interview. “I said, ‘Hey, I got housing for ya.’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s great, that’s great.’”
But then the man said he was going out of town and would call city officials when he returned, Newsom said.
“They talk in evocative terms of enjoying the fresh air and enjoying the freedom,” he said.
In an effort to reach those people, Newsom mobilized Project Homeless Connect. It provides a one-stop location for the estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people who sleep on San Francisco’s streets each night, providing services such as housing, medical care, substance abuse treatment, HIV testing, a bus ticket to a home outside The City and even haircuts.
But many of The City’s services are located downtown, and those who sleep nightly in the nooks and crannies of Golden Gate Park are either unaware of the program, unable to travel or unwilling to leave, Homeless Connect Director Judith Klain said.
Nearly 100 people did take advantage of the services within the first few hours, including Joseph Patterson, 61, who said a shelter will be a nice change from a construction site where he’s been staying near Daly City.
But others, including long-term homeless campers who have been cited before, declined.
Some squatters have been living in the park for years and feel a sense of community there, Newsom said. Others have dogs that are not allowed in many housing situations, he said.
“They’re good people,” Newsom said.
But having them in the park is a public health issue, according to Newsom.
Efforts to clean up the park and remove homeless campers have been going on for two years, with park patrols, outreach teams and police teaming up for morning searches at least five days a week. They can cite the campers for a number of reasons, along with steer them toward social services.
The efforts have dropped the number of people living in the park on a daily basis from 200 to 25, Homeless Policy Director Dariush Kayhan said.
That core group, however, has been hard to coax out of the park.
Newsom said The City’s plan is to continue outreach efforts, map out hot spots where squatters live, and try to balance being sensitive with the homeless and the health and safety of park users.
“That’s what’s so challenging,” he said. “Even if you get these kids housing, you got 500 more coming in every month from Portland [Ore], Seattle and other parts.”
Without a home
6,000-12,000 Homeless people on any given night in San Francisco
20 percent Chronically homeless
20-33 percent Veterans
1,623 Homeless students in city schools
80 percent Homeless between 18 and 25 years old
21,936 Volunteers who have provided services to more than 31,000 homeless and poor San Franciscans through Homeless Connect
200 Cities across the U.S., Canada and Australia that have replicated SF’s Homeless Connect
Source: Project Homeless Connect