San Francisco To Spend Millions On Safe Sleeping Sites But Not Actual Housing

In what seems to be a backwards way of approaching the seemingly chaotic homeless epidemic of San Francisco, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are currently considering spending hundreds of millions of dollars to have homeless people sleep in tents on city property, it’s an expansion of the so-called ‘safe sleeping sites’.

“The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but if you’re currently unhoused, it’s been so brutal,” Kelley Cutler, a Human Rights Organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness said. She opposes the legislation. The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, would require that within 18 months The City open a sufficient number of safe sleeping sites to accommodate all unsheltered homeless persons “who are willing to accept a referral to such sites.” The legislation, if it were to be adopted next month, would initially have to provide within 60 days a plan to open enough safe sleeping sites to accommodate 500 people within nine months. A possible amendment may extend that time to 120 days. But homeless advocates don’t believe that this is enough nor the right path.

“The cost is more than housing, why would we put that money toward tents and encampments when we can be actually getting folks into housing?” Cutler said. But the flip side trying to make a conscious effort to get people housed in some capacity. “We cannot continue to, as a city, invest in housing, but leave it to the unhoused folks we cannot house to figure out where they are supposed to be,” Mandelman said.

In 2018, we wrote about the sweeping homeless bill that started in Boise Idaho that rippled into California, making it illegal to evict a homeless person from their encampment nor punish the homeless for sleeping outside if they do not have access to shelter elsewhere. The bill has had several amendments since it’s pass on the west coast and today we still see homeless men and women become the target of displaced anger toward the ongrowing homeless epidemic.

The case, Martin versus the city of Boise, dates to 2009 and went before the appeals court last year. The plaintiffs, six homeless or formerly homeless Boise, Idaho residents, alleged that laws prohibiting them from sleeping outdoors within city limits amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and violated their rights under the Eighth Amendment.

Notes from the Ninth Court stated, “In 2014, after this litigation began, the ordinances were amended to prohibit their enforcement against any homeless person on public property on any night when no shelter had an available overnight space.” The judge also notes that, “cases construing substantive limits as to what the government may criminalize are rare,” but concluded that Boise’s policy arrest in retaliation for “public camping” was cruel and unusual because it’s disproportionate to the crime.

In San Francisco, police and city workers often roust encampments of homeless people on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots, although the city usually cites health code violations as the root of these actions. And for those not up-to-date on their constitution, the Eighth Amendment often mentioned in the context of the death penalty, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, but also mentions “excessive fines” and bail.  The “excessive fines” clause surfaces (among other places) in cases of civil and criminal forfeiture, for example when property is seized during a drug raid.

But the world is watching and SFPD has taken note as the news of the ruling is being heard by one of the world’s most excessive homeless populations. It’s becoming so cruel and unusual that homeless populations are getting their cars impounded by the city—cars often inhabited by homeless are commonly used as shelters. And with our homeless shelters at max capacity, San Francisco hopes that the Safe Sleeping Sites will add another layer of option for those looking to be housed.

While the proposal “is silent on enforcement,” Mandelman said, “I think it is reasonable to ask folks to move — to either accept that placement or to find another place to be.” The current estimate for each tent is $5,000 a month or $61,000 a year, this includes security, bathrooms and clean water. Currently there are around 260 tents in these sites and could cost San Francisco $16 million this year. The legislation currently has no co-sponsors. Opponents also worry that this would be funded with Proposition C money. Prop C was approved by voters in 2018 as a tax that is expected to generate $250-$300 million a year toward solving homelessness money intended to go toward permanent housing.

// Thoughts on this? How do we solve for homelessness in a city that both criminalizes and perpetuates this issue? Art by Anthony Rogers.

San Francisco To Spend Millions On Safe Sleeping Sites But Not Actual Housing
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