Newly released text messages are offering the public a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Mayor London Breed directing law enforcement to respond to homeless hot spots in San Francisco.
While Breed has repeatedly said that homeless sweeps do not occur in The City, the messages appear to show her ordering Police Chief Bill Scott to clear homeless people off the sidewalks in candid language.
Homeless advocates posted screenshots of the messages to social media Monday, criticizing Breed for the apparent contradiction. The texts were first published on the website MuckRock in response to an anonymous public records request to the San Francisco Police Department.
“There should be no homeless people sleeping on the 800 block of market and that is still happening at 9:30 tonight,” the mayor texted Scott, her Chief of Staff Sean Elsbernd and others in August 2019, according to the records. “Please make sure that block is cleared.”
When asked to respond, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said Breed is constantly in contact with the department heads responsible for the Healthy Streets Operations Center. The multi-agency effort is supposed to respond to homeless calls with social services as well as police officers.
“When she is out in the community, she makes sure to highlight areas that need attention so that HSOC is aware of the issue and can respond to get people help they need,” said the spokesperson, Andy Lynch.
But HSOC has been criticized for responding to calls with police first rather than public health workers. And depending on who is asked, there is an argument over whether HSOC removing tents and homeless people from a street can be called an “encampment resolution” or a “homeless sweep.”
Here's a bunch of texts SF Mayor @LondonBreed sent to the chief of police personally telling him to conduct homeless sweeps to cater to businesses, and seemingly because she didn't want to see them while eating lunch? Full text dump here: https://t.co/tQA53XsUpR pic.twitter.com/LCabFO7efD
— HDizz (@dizz_h) May 25, 2020
The texts were exchanged between Breed, Scott and others from July 2019 until April 2020. In addition to addressing homeless issues, the texts show the chief briefing the mayor on incidents including homicides, vehicle sideshows and homeless-related crimes that were expected to reach the news media.
In the messages, Breed seemed to be going about her day when she would come across a homeless person and text Scott and others to “clean” or “clear” areas. The other individuals are not identified.
“Man sleeping on bench on Hayes st near gough,” Breed texted in August 2019. “Can someone come ASAP. I’m in the area having lunch.”
At times, she frankly described “terrible” street conditions that needed attention and once called the 7-Eleven convenience store on Market Street a “hot mess.”
“I just drove by the 600 block of Ellis st between taylor and jones and it is an embarrassment! What the hell is going on that block? It’s a nightmare. You can’t even walk on that block. Clean it up!”
Chief Scott often responded to the texts by saying he would send officers or an HSOC team.
In a statement, Scott said that HSOC balances the needs of residents and the homeless through “a services-led approach.”
“The objective of HSOC is to engage those unsheltered to connect them with available housing and supportive services,” Scott said, adding that officers “work with partner city agencies to explore solutions and available options for those unsheltered.”
In one particularly heated exchange over the “embarrassing” conditions on the corners of Seventh and Market streets and Sixth and Market streets in March 2020, Breed appeared to blast the chief. She had previously complained of illegal activity including drug dealing in the area.
“I’m tired of excuses and repeating myself,” Breed said. “Fix it. It’s the same corners.”
This story has been updated to include additional comment.