A viral Facebook video has renewed outrage in the activist community against city agencies and their treatment of homeless residents.
Castro District resident Jim Youll confronted Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Mohammed Nuru, Director of the Department of Public Works, in a cell phone video that has since gone viral online. In the video, Youll asks Supervisor Sheehy why tent encampments were removed from his neighborhood, to which Director Nuru responds, “this is a no-tent city…we don’t allow people to [camp] on our streets.”
While Nuru contended that homeless residents can go to shelters or navigations, Youll responded that there were only 1500 shelter beds in the city, while the last point-in-time survey identified roughly 7,500 homeless residents on the streets of San Francisco.
Mr. Youll goes on to confront Sheehy about reports that SFPD officers have been slashing tents open during encampment sweeps, asking why the City allows it to happen. Director Nuru repeats, “Because we are a no-tent city.” Nuru later reiterates his insistence that the City would find other accommodations from those in cleared encampments.
While reports of city employees cutting open tents or hosing them down with water have gone uncorroborated, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works wrote: “Tents should not be blocking the path of travel. It is against our policy to spray people or their tents.”
According to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the City currently has 1,389 shelter beds available, with two more facilities with several hundred beds slated to open later this year. The Department also utilizes 7,403 units of permanent supportive housing as part of its Strategic Framework.
Kelley Cutler, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, informed the Beacon that the wait-lists for shelter beds and permanent housing facilities is over 1000 people, with an average wait time of 110 days, while the Coalition has been receiving reports of tent encampments being cleared by city officials several times a week, with increasing frequency. Cutler also said that her organization had received reports of water hoses deployed on tent encampments in previous years, but was unable to confirm more recent allegations.
“For Mohammed [Nuru] to claim that there are enough resources—that’s simply not the case,” Cutler said. “While someone is on the wait-list, there’s nowhere for people to actually go. They sweep someone on one block, they go to the next block, and put people through the same process the next day. And that’s a huge challenge.”
Proposition Q, passed in 2016, authorized city officials to clear homeless tent encampments, but only if they provided people in the encampments a 24-hour warning and an offer of a shelter bed. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in late 2017 that Prop Q had been invoked 172 times by October of that year, and that homeless outreach teams made, on average, up to three offers of shelter bed per person.
The clearing of tent encampments has been the subject of intense public scrutiny since efforts ramped up during the 2016 Super Bowl weekend, with ongoing reports of walkers and wheelchairs being dumped into garbage trucks. This was only amplified in recent months after a special envoy from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council likened the “cruelty” of the homelessness situation in the Bay Area to the most squalid encampments in Mexico City.
“I’m driven to tears watching city officials send crews to destroy the lives and health of people who have nothing,” Youll wrote in a follow-up statement provided to the Beacon. “I have watched homeless people thrown into the cold rain. I can’t bear it any more.”