Advocates for people who are homeless say a decision approved by the San Francisco Police Commission on Wednesday to scale back the number of police officers who respond to calls about unsheltered people will help advance the goals of a new campaign they launched this week.
On Wednesday, advocates launched the Solution Not Sweeps campaign, which calls on the city to end the practice of sweeping homeless encampments, towing the vehicles of unhoused people, and confiscating their property.
As part of the launch, the advocates have sent a letter to Mayor London Breed. The letter not only demands an end to the sweeps, but also demands that the city replace the law enforcement-led and complaint-driven sweeps with an evidence-based approach, using health care and service providers.
The advocates are also asking that the city establish protocols for street and sidewalk cleaning that doesn't disrupt unhoused people living in the area.
"We're really pushing for real solutions and not facades," said Kelley Cutler with the Coalition on Homelessness, one of the organizations involved in the campaign.
The unanimous decision by the city's Police Commission on Wednesday to approve a resolution urging the city to form a working group to create alternative solutions to a police response is a step in the right direction, Cutler said.
"The resolution approved by the commission last night was really reiterating these same requests that police are not the appropriate response," she said. "They're not health care workers, that's just not their role."
"What the city does is a complaint-driven system. Someone will call 311 or 911 and they're not reporting an actual crime, they're reporting someone's presence; someone who appears homeless," Cutler said.
"So law enforcement will tell people to move and often times they leave their belongings, medications, everything they have and then they have to start from square one," she said. "It's very traumatizing for people, because there's no place where people can even exist."
Instead of police, the campaign is advocating that health care and service providers work with homeless people to offer them services and opportunities for shelter or housing.
Using law enforcement to conduct sweeps or outreach only makes the work of service providers harder, Cutler said, because the sweeps push people to other blocks, making them hard to locate and ultimately affecting their access to services.
So far, Cutler said the campaign hasn't heard back from Breed's office regarding their demands.
But, "This is just the start of it," she said. "It's a small city and we all have to work together to find and create solutions."
The mayor's office was not immediately available for comment.