A quiet war seems to be brewing within City Hall over the handling of homeless encampments, marking yet another chapter in a multi-year saga involving police, sanitation workers, homeless advocates, outreach workers, politicians, and a newly installed department head of a newly created department. The latest drama erupted over a cleanup that was conducted at a semi-large encampment by the Department of Public Works (DPW) without the knowledge of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (DHSH), with the latter having assured the people in the encampment that they wouldn't have to move for two weeks. As the Chronicle reports, the sweep by DPW happened at 6 a.m. Thursday at a camp at the edge of the Mission District and Potrero Hill, under the freeway overpass at San Bruno Avenue and 15th Street.
About 30 people were living in the camp, and just a week before, outreach counselors working for the DHSH came through and met with them all, saying that they did not want to have to move them until they could secure shelter or housing for all of them. DPW apparently did not communicate their intention to conduct one of their routine cleanups at the camp the following week, and a person in the DHSH who declined to give their name said that people there were "pissed" about this. Jason Albertson, who directs the Encampment Resolution Team, told the Chronicle, "Whenever our clients, for whatever reason, are dislocated or relocated, it makes the challenge that much more difficult."
The head of the new department, sometimes dubbed the city's "homeless czar," Jeff Kositsky, has obviously had to toe a line of not appearing at war with DPW, and only tells the Chronicle that he and other department heads "work hard to work together."
DPW says they were responding to a complaint, and they were only doing what was necessary to sanitize the area and clean up needles, etc. The campers, they say, are allowed to move back once they're done, but that was apparently not communicated and the action was conducted very much like a punitive sweep, with belongings and furniture tossed into the back of a garbage truck, as Mission Local reports.
Without any other option, most of the 30 campers simply relocated one street over, to Vermont Street, increasing the population and footprint of an already established encampment there and further angering the owner of a rug store on that block, Farid Yadegar, who tells the Chron that he's "been complaining to City Hall for weeks" and he's "just about had it."
The action by DPW, while not characterized by them as a sweep or a removal of an encampment, seems to violate the spirit of Proposition Q, which was passed by SF voters in November and which requires that encampments get 24 hours notice and offers of services before such actions take place.
As discussed last month, Proposition Q hasn't been adhered to at all in the DPW's work, and the communications war between DPW and DHSH has been ongoing.
Another anonymous employee of the DHSH earlier told the Chronicle "When [DPW] roust[s] a camp after we tell [the camp], ‘Don’t worry, you won’t be bothered while we work with you on getting inside,’ it pisses people off and they're less willing to believe you next time."
Rachel Gordon, spokesperson for DPW, defended last Thursday's cleanup because she said the camp was spilling into traffic lanes. "I believe the teams have been in discussion about resolution process," she tells Mission Local. "We couldn’t have the camp spilling into the traffic lane any longer."