Frustrated by how slowly the city is finding housing solutions for homeless people, the head of San Francisco's Public Works Department has reportedly authorized unofficial removals of encampments, and is mulling a DPW-run shelter in one of SF's vacant lots.
The Chron's Matier and Ross has the tale, writing that DPW chief Mohammed Nuru "has taken it upon himself to sidestep the city’s much-publicized system of coordinated agency response and is preemptively cleaning out the most dystopian tent encampments."
The cleanups, they report, needn't follow the rules sent in place by Proposition Q, which requires that 24-hour notice be given to encampments and that property storage and overnight shelter be offered to homeless campers before anyone is removed from them. That's because Nuru says "the sidewalk 'cleanups' were not technically removals," as they were spurred by complaints about trash in the area.
Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach disagrees, saying “This was no ordinary cleanup where they asked people to move their tents for a couple of hours. It was definitely a removal.”
And so far, the cleanup effort has been an epic one, with "53,100 pounds of garbage and 3,295 used syringes" cleaned up in a single week from six encampments in SoMa and the Mission.
Nuru says that 15,000 pounds of garbage 700 needles, “and a lot of rats,” were found at another encampment near the Caltrain yard on Townsend. 13,500 more pounds of debris and 1,250 needles were cleared from an encampment on San Bruno Avenue between 16th and Division streets.
It was unbelievable,” Nuru tells the Chron. “No one should have to live like that — no one should work or walk by all that, either.”
None of the encampments had received any attention from the Department of Public Health, even though mounds of garbage were clearly visible at the locations. When asked why DPH hadn't intervened, department spokesperson Rachel Kagan didn't have much on an answer, instead saying “We are working together with the other city agencies to find the best way to deal with encampments, including clarifying of roles and responsibilities.”
Less concerned with "clarifying of roles and responsibilities," is Nuru. "His break with protocol," the Chron writes, "was brought on by numerous complaints from the public about encampments — and by the snail’s-pace opening of new navigation centers and shelters." In fact, "Nuru said a lack of shelter beds and space in navigation centers has him looking into whether Public Works should open its own shelter."
“I can’t have people sleeping on pallets over rats,” Nuru says, “Bathrooms, we are still exploring...if we had a vacant lot where people could stay, I think we would look into it.”