After seven years on the Board of Supervisors, David Campos woke up this morning and decided that San Francisco had entered a homelessness crisis. Campos' team was up early, too, calling SFist before 7 a.m. to draw our attention to the Supervisor's cri de cœur press release in which he implores the Board to declare a formal "shelter crisis," a move that could allow city government to convert public land to homeless shelters more quickly.
According to Mayor Lee's office, another homeless Navigation Center like the one heralded last year in the Mission District could take six months to replicate. While Lee has set aside $3 million for more such centers, which seek to relocate entire encampments of homeless San Franciscans with looser rules and regulations for them, the city has yet to secure additional sites and the first one alone took that much money to build.
A shelter crisis would invoke a state law from the 1980s, the Chronicle explains, pertaining to situations in which "a significant number” of people in a city are without shelter leading to “a threat to the health and safety of those persons. In seeking such a declaration, Campos is signaling that he isn't one to wait around — except for the better part of two decades — to address the city's most intransigent issue. But, really? At this late date?
"I want to apologize to the people of San Francisco on behalf of City Hall," the Supervisor says, at once sorry for the inaction and somehow not responsible for it. "This failure to act has caused a public health emergency in San Francisco that has reached intolerable levels." If approved by the Board, a Shelter Crisis would in Campos word's allow the city "to take emergency action to build additional Navigation Centers on city-owned property."
Furthermore, says Campos, "In the next few weeks I will be introducing legislation that requires the executive branch to build six additional Navigation Centers in the next year, three of which must be built within the next four months." One of these centers would be a controversial "wet" environment in which homeless shelter-seekers could consume alcohol.
It should be noted that while the first Navigation Center has boasted some successes, it has only been operating for a short time and has not made a significant dent in the problem when it comes to getting individuals permanently housed and homeless advocates often cite the issue of all those individuals who are "service-resistant," and for reasons of addiction, mental illness, or both, would prefer to remain on the street.
"If we can afford $5 million for the Super Bowl, we can afford to address homelessness," said Campos, jabbing at the recent event seen by some as a foil for — or even an exacerbating influence on — homelessness in the city. But while the theme of homelessness in San Francisco has been stagnation, Campos might be right to see one change that has more to do with the complaints of San Franciscans with permanent residences.
"You’re angry that over 7000 people who have lost their jobs, people who have been evicted, people dealing with drug addictions, youth kicked out of their homes, and people who’ve been abandoned by our medical system have no option but to live on our streets." Campos writes. "You’re angry that our residents have been forced to care for sick and hungry people sleeping in their doorways, forced to walk on streets covered with human feces, and forced to help as best as they can people with severe mental health issues."
That collective "you" to whom Campos speaks appears to be all those who are upset with the homeless, and even with homeless numbers basically flat for the last six years, the Supervisor is betting that there are more fed up San Franciscans than ever these days.
Paul Boden, director of the homelessness nonprofit group the Western Regional Advocacy Project, observes that declaring crises is a "trend that’s happening in cities across the country.” Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle have all done so. But here in San Francisco, citing the duration of the homelessness epidemic, Boden says that “I find it hard after 33 years to say, ‘Oh, isn’t it great we’re declaring a crisis.' ... We are in a crisis, and we’ve been in a crisis for a while.”