The city may not be confiscating tents the way they had been before the coronavirus pandemic, but San Francisco authorities are still telling the homeless to move along and forcing the breakdown of encampments, even though this actively violates CDC guidelines for the unsheltered.
As SF Public Press reported two weeks ago, sweeps continue to occur in the Mission and Tenderloin, in particular, even though shelter space is even less available than it was before — with the city's existing homeless shelters trying to maintain more distance between guests. (Earlier this week the city laid out bed mats and six-foot taped squares at Moscone Center West in order to house nearly 400 homeless people, but then pivoted and said the space would instead be used for convalescing COVID-19 patients who no longer needed to be quarantined in hotels and who had nowhere else to go.)
A Department of Public Works employee told the Public Press that workers have been told to continue a process they call "bag and tag" in cases when homeless individuals' property has been left unattended on streets, "for sanitation reasons." And according to 311 records, encampment removals continued through the end of March, with spikes on March 18 and March 25.
The Coalition on Homelessness issued some "top shelf policy recommendations" to the city on Thursday, saying that in addition to providing more transparency on the number of unsheltered people who have already contracted COVID-19, the city needs to stop its sweeps of encampments until this crisis is over.
Per the Coalition:
The city has posted on its website and given directives to agencies to halt the confiscation of tents. However, the city continues to violate CDC guidelines by ordering people to move along in cases that have nothing to do with the physical distancing requirements, including evicting camps from public parks. This violates CDC guidelines that clearly assert “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.” The city has not carried out any outreach efforts to inform those on the streets or shelters of their policy change of halting property confiscation, which is likely leading many people experiencing homelessness [to avoid] medical care out of fear of criminalization and property loss.
The Coalition is further asking that the city "clearly and proactively" communicate its policy on not confiscating belongings in order that unsheltered people do not feel dissuaded from seeking medical help if they are showing symptoms.
Reportedly, homeless people living in cars are also still being told to move along in SF.
If the city won't provide hotel space to all homeless who want it, the Coalition suggests that the city "should immediately offer tents, hygiene stations, food, water and other provisions to all of those sheltering-in-place outside." This can be done, they suggest, by setting up provision stations in vacant lots and unused sports fields.
As Coalition on Homelessness organizer Kelley Cutler said to the Public Press, "We’re still not being told where people can actually be. We’re told where they can’t be."