Homeless advocates have set up a camp in the Bayview in reaction to The City’s slow action to find shelter for the neighborhood’s unhoused residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kevin N. Hume/ S.F. Examiner

Impatient with city efforts, Bayview nonprofits set up safe camping site for homeless

Community organizers establish 40-tent camp in park to allow for social distancing

Bayview homeless advocates and nonprofits have set up a tent encampment at Bayview Park in reaction to The City’s slow action to find shelter for the neighborhood’s unhoused residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community organizers from the United Council of Human Services, also known as Mother Brown’s, and Beds 4 Bayview, established the camp in the park near the closed Martin Luther King Jr. pool with 40 tents arranged to allow for social distancing. Encampment residents have access to restroom facilities on site, and are being supplied with water, food, security and other services by the organizations.

“We are setting up these tents for the people who are homeless in the Bayview who are not eligible to go into a hotel room, because they have to have some place with social distancing,” said Gwendolyn Westbrook, executive director of Mother Brown’s.

Westbrook said the park, sometimes called MLK Park, is the only place in the Bayview where an encampment can practice proper social distancing. The encampment was first set up at the park on April 9 but was cleared by park rangers and San Francisco police officers shortly after. On April 23, the organizations pitched tents again and have remained unbothered ever since.

“The need is so high right now,” said Maria Victoria Ahearne-Rosales from Beds 4 Bayview. “There are no resources coming to Bayview, so we really couldn’t wait.”

The Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood has seen one of the highest rates of confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to city data. The neighborhood also has the second-highest concentration of homeless people in The City, at 1,800, with 1,500 of them unsheltered.

While The City has passed emergency legislation to secure shelter and housing for homeless people during the pandemic, progress has been slow. The City has procured fewer than 3,000 hotel rooms of the 8,250 rooms that were supposed to be leased to comply with an ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors.

But because there are no hotels in Bayview, homeless people in the neighborhood are being severely underserved, Westbrook said.

“Many people here are 50 and under and aren’t eligible for these hotel rooms,” Westbrook said. “We want them to have rooms, but when? We don’t know, nobody seems to know. The City has a lot of red tape.”

The San Francisco Port Commission agreed on Friday to let The City place 120 trailers and RVs on Pier 94 in the Bayview to shelter homeless people with underlying conditions and who are at risk. Still, many of the Bayview’s homeless are excluded.

Other solutions have been proposed. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman that urges The City “to establish Safe Sleeping Sites for unsheltered people, to encourage social distancing, improve sanitation, and slow the spread of coronavirus disease.”

These sites would be in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for encampments during COVID-19, including to cease clearing encampments and placing tents 12 feet apart. City-regulated encampments would allow for adequate social distancing and provide bathrooms, handwashing stations, meals, drinking water and garbage disposal.

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer also announced plans to introduce further emergency legislation that would open up public sites, including parks on land owned by San Francisco Recreation and Parks, for establishing safe encampment sites. Fewer said that with 70 percent of Golden Gate Park in her district, she identified several areas perfect for encampment sites.

“Though this is not a permanent solution to homelessness and not as good as a hotel room, it is certainly better than leaving our unhoused folks crowded on our sidewalks,” Fewer said.

Westbrook and Ahearne-Rosales both hope the Bayview encampment will become sanctioned by The City so it can remain in operation for the remainder of the pandemic. Without government funding, it has been operating fromdonations and community support.

Organizers at the camp want to work with The City to address the specific needs of unhoused individuals, Ahearne-Rosales said.

“I’ve been homeless for six months and this is the first time I’ve felt like I matter,” said Tasha Swift, an occupant of the encampment. “I’ve felt more safe and I’ve been able to stay more clean, and eat two to three meals a day.”

mjohnson@sfexaminer.com

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