In a move that is certain to anger homeless advocates even further in a year when conspicuous homelessness has become a primary topic of debate in SF Mayor Ed Lee announced this weekend a renewed crackdown on homeless encampments citywide. Lee is using as an excuse Thursday's shooting of 45-year-old Luis Gongora at one encampment on Shotwell Street, noting reports that Gongora was armed with a kitchen knife, and suggesting that many more residents of homeless camps might have weapons.
As Lee tells the Chron's Matier & Ross, "It’s not just that people do not feel safe around the camps they aren’t safe." Adding, "When it comes to public safety, I’m not going to compromise with these camps."
Witnesses have offered conflicting accounts of Gongora's fatal shooting by police, with most agreeing that he was carrying a knife, but some saying that he was not threatening police at the time he was shot.
Now, police, public health, and public works officials are going to identify "hot spots" among the camps and clear them out one by one, with the hot spots going first, the way they did on Division Street in late February and early March. The intent, says Mayor Lee, is to clear the camps as more shelter beds become available, however it remains to be seen where these beds will come from. At the moment, there are just 20 empty beds at the temporary Pier 80 shelter, and 93 more are expected to come online soon.
Lee stresses that no one was arrested when approximately 250 people's tents were forcibly removed from Division Street, but some homeless have complained of having their belongings confiscated by the Department of Public Works. DPW says that all belongings are "bagged and tagged" and removed to a storage facility on Cesar Chavez, but the troubles that people have retrieving things from there has been reported on for several years.
The safety issue cited by the city in the past, with regard to the camps, was not weapons but human waste and discarded needles.
It is also unclear how many physical camps will be targeted for clearing.
This all comes after Supervisor David Campos, an outspoken critic of the mayor's actions surrounding the homeless, declared a citywide shelter crisis. The move was intended to allow the city to seek federal assistance in helping to address the homelessness problem, as it would in a natural disaster.
Campos weighed in on the new crackdown, telling the Chronicle, "What we saw on Division Street is that many of the people living there just moved somewhere else. I wouldn’t be surprised if the camp on Shotwell had moved there from Division Street. We keep moving them because there are not enough places for them to go."