law enforcement

Prop. Q: Should San Francisco Ban Homeless Tents on Sidewalks?

Homeless activists said Proposition Q is flawed.

With frustrations boiling over San Francisco’s entrenched homeless crisis, city voters will be asked to weigh in and ban tents from sidewalks.

Proposition Q on the November ballot would empower police to remove tents and encampments with 24 hour notice, as long as the city can provide a shelter bed or housing to the displaced.

“Nobody is getting better sleeping in tents — nothing good is happening in tents,” said San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell who authored the proposition. “We need to get people off the streets and into shelter and housing.”

The proliferation of camping tents used by the homeless has compounded over the past two years — increasing the visibility of the homeless population.

The problem reached its height last spring when an encampment on Division Street swelled to around 300 tent campers before police cleared it out in time for the Super Bowl. Splinters camps from that encampment spread across the city.

“The tents that have emerged in San Francisco,” Farrell said, “have really become the symbol of the issue we face as a city.”

Farrell accused the tent encampments of becoming dens of crime and prostitution, hosting bicycle chop-shops and laden with human waste and unsanitary conditions.

Tents lining a city street
Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area
A row of tents used by the homeless sit in a row near Folsom and 15th Streets in San Francisco's South of Market.

“As a city government, to encourage these tent encampments or institutionalize them to me is exactly the wrong approach,” Farrell said. “It’s dangerous for the people living in them. It’s dangerous for the rest of San Francisco residents.”

But homeless activists said Farrell’s plan is flawed because the city lacks enough housing options to offer shelter or housing to those being evicted from their sidewalk lodging.

“There’s no housing in the measure,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “It’s basically about taking away people’s tents so they’re sleeping on the cold hard concrete.”

9-30-16-tents-row-sf-homeles-folsom and 5th streets
Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area
A row of tents used by the homeless sit in a row near Folsom and 15th Streets in San Francisco's South of Market.

Friedenbach said the proposition only calls for the homeless to be housed for one night after which she said they would return to the streets. She called the proposition political grandstanding without helping to solve the greater issue of homelessness.

“The tents are already illegal so enforcement is not working,” Friedenbach said. “The only solution on this situation is housing.”

Sitting near a row of tents near Folsom and 16th streets, Mario Diaz bristled at details of the proposition. After living on the streets for three years, he said the homeless are already rousted regularly with little notice — and the proposition would only make conditions worse.

“It’s unfair to give guys 24 hour notice to confiscate and the law is protecting that,” Diaz said. “That is not right at all.”

The proposition would call for the Department of Public Works to retain confiscated belongings for 90 days which Farrell called an improvement over the current system.

Prop. Q will hit the ballot at a time when the city is expanding homeless services including highly touted navigation centers which offer all-in-one services and lodging for the homeless.

But the sight of encampments and piles of associated trash have frustrated residents who have grown weary of the camps. Diaz said while he disagrees with the intention of Prop. Q, he said he understands the inspiration for it.

“It’s only understandable why a hard working family man wakes up in the morning and sees needles on the floor and tents bunched up,” Diaz said. “It’s understandable why they’d feel that way.”

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