Battle on the Ballot: Criminalizing Camping

Advocates for homeless people in San Francisco are responding to one lawmaker’s ballot proposal to break homeless encampments with 24 hours’ notice with a competing plan from another lawmaker.

Prior to the June 28 Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Aaron Peskin announced he will put his own measure, largely as a counterpoint to one his colleague Mark Farrell placed the week before.

Whereas Farrell’s would empower police to order the removal of encampments — including those with only one tent — with 24 hours’ notice, Peskin’s proposal would allow 72 hours for residents to leave.


Promotion of Safe and Open Sidewalks
Process of Removing Encampments and Transition to Housing
Creates a new law that prohibits tents on sidewalks.Maintains laws that already prohibits tents on sidewalks. These include sit/lie, sidewalk obstruction, public health and public lodging, which are part of 23 anti-homeless laws in SF.
Does not promote having tents on sidewalks, but does nothing to get them off sidewalks beyond current practices.Does not promote having tents on sidewalks, but ensures tangible solutions.
Promotes negative stereotypes by finding encampments unsafe and unhealthy.Finds encampments are the result of the housing crisis.
Requires an offer of bus ticket out of town or a minimum of one night in shelter before encampment is removed.Acknowledges current practice of offering one night beds and bus tickets is not working, and instead forces the city to find real shelter or housing for people on streets.
Promotes the status quo of creating laws that don’t decrease the presence of homelessness, and simply move people from block to block.Recognizes that 71% of homeless people in SF livedin SF before they were homeless, and that if people have nowhere to go when they are displaced from encampments, they simply move a block away to stay near their social support system.
Maintains current law requiring city to bag and tag property and hold for 90 days.Maintains current law requiring city to bag and tag property and hold for 90 days.
Allows city to displace people currently waiting for shelter based on complaints from citizens and police referral to shelters.Protects senior, disabled people as well as women and families waiting for shelter and housing from being passed over for someone allocated by police.
Ignores recommendations from Budget Legislative Analyst Office (BLA) that states we are spending $20.6 million on enforcing quality of life laws in SF with little effect.Integrates recommendations from City’s BLA and
attempts to find solutions that would reduce the
need for people to sleep on streets.
Contradicts the Obama Administrations US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USIACH) recommendations to transition people from encampments into housing.Supports the Obama Administration USIACH recommended guidelines for transitioning people from encampments into housing.

However, under Peskin’s proposal, the City must identify alternatives, such as shelter, exit housing or permanent affordable housing before removing the camps. These exits would be guaranteed within 24 hours, and a plan for campers to transition to long-term housing would be developed within 30 days. Farrell’s proposal, meanwhile, adds a new crime to the books, punishing those who stay in tents with fines.

Although Peskin’s measure would amend the existing Municipal Police Code, he told the Board that another law criminalizing homelessness is the last thing that is needed.

“We don’t need a 24th law to bludgeon an issue that is going nowhere,” he said. San Francisco has the most local ordinances in the state that prohibit sitting, lying and resting in public areas, according to a University of California, Berkeley law school report.

The Peskin measure would require a six-vote majority on the board by August 5 to be placed on November’s ballot. Eric Mar and John Avalos are co-sponsoring the measure. The Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes the Street Sheet, assisted Peskin in crafting the proposal.

Each measure has its own “poison pill” provision; if both initiatives pass, the one with more “yes” votes would supersede the other.

Farrell submitted his proposal to the Department of Elections minutes before the June 21 deadline for board members with three other signatures. Scott Wiener, Katy Tang and Malia Cohen also signed the initiative.

Criticism of Farrell’s initiative has been swift, and opponents have already been marshaling their forces. Avalos said that because Farrell measure is a continuation of policies that criminalize homeless people, he would withhold support for Farrell’s homeless-funding legislation.

“Farrell, Wiener, Tang and Cohen have to ask themselves if their status quo, wedge-issue measure is more valuable than the $50 million they will forgo by not pulling their anti-homeless ordinance from the ballot,” he said.

An alliance of social justice organizations, including Causa Justa/Just Cause and the Transgender and Intersex Justice Project, has also been urging constituents to call Farrell and his co-sponsors with requests to withdraw support or rescind the measure.

The urgency of homeless camps has drawn worldwide focus during Super Bowl celebrations in the Bay Area. An almost one-mile stretch of tents along Division Street was broken, and residents were forced to disperse to surrounding streets and temporary shelters. Several tent residents on Division reported to the Coalition that police suggested to set camp in the neighborhood because it would draw fewer complaints.