By TJ Johnston

Dec. 11, 2017

In one of the most recent forced relocations of encamped residents of San Francisco, the City has swept an encampment on San Bruno Avenue and Division Street hours after a U.N. official visited the residents, Street Sheet has learned.

The sweeps happened twice on the morning of December 7, around 3:30 a.m., then again at 8 a.m. The day before, a U.N. Special Rapporteur’s delegation spoke to some people living there as part of an investigation on poverty. According to the Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes Street Sheet, police and public works crews ordered residents to leave the following morning.

Those sweeps were sudden and unannounced, residents said. The procedure for clearing encampments includes prior notice and an offer of services, but recent history suggests that the City doesn’t always follows its own rules. The residents — all of whom declined to give their names — reported that neither of those things happened.

The Coalition on Homelessness is extremely dismayed that the City continues to have an erratic practice of sometimes engaging in properly addressing encampments with adequate notice and relocation plans, and then randomly and spontaneously removes encampments inhumanely at other times,” Coalition director Jennifer Friedenbach said.  “The result of these expensive endeavors is moving people down the block, increased complaints from surrounding residents, and further traumatizing and destabilizing encampment residents. The Coalition on Homelessness is once again calling on the City to solve homelessness through investment in solutions, and careful planning in conjunction with housed and unhoused residents that leads to relocation into permanent housing, or temporary accommodations that lead to permanent housing.”

Encampment dwellers were already being moved around for what they believed was a just a cleanup by the Department of Public Works the day before. An entourage led by Philip Alston,  U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, was visiting the site as part of a nationwide fact-finding tour when police and DPW stopped by.  

One resident reported being told by a DPW staffer that the activity was done in advance of a visit by Mayor Ed Lee, but he didn’t anticipate barricades being set up afterward.

“This lady from DPW had come by the day before but didn’t say nothing about us having to move,” he said. “After I moved over here, they said we could move back once the mayor left. When I came back out, they set up those fence things.”

Lee indeed staged a photo-op at the now-cleaned area on December 7 around 11 a.m. with DPW director Mohammed Nuru, Department of Public Health director Barbara Garcia, whose department includes the SF Homeless Outreach Team, and Homelessness Department director Jeff Kositsky, and tweeted about it.

“This morning, @JeffKositsky & I walked through Showplace Square with SF HOT & @sfpublicworks to resolve an encampment & connect people experiencing homelessness with resources & supportive services to get them off the streets & into stable living conditions,” he posted.

But apparently, those resources won’t be readily available to another resident, a woman in her 40s. She said the sweep caught her and her family off guard, leaving them essentially with nowhere else to go.

“I needed to get my kids to school, and they woke us up at 3:30 in the morning, and made us move, and then made us move again at 8 a.m.,” she said. “They then put up barriers so we couldn’t move back. I don’t know where we are going to go.”

DPW workers at the scene were excited at the prospect of earning overtime and holiday pay.

Street Sheet contacted the Special Rapporteur’s team for a response on the sweep, but spokesperson Junko Tadaki declined to comment. “We have certainly taken note of the situation, and the Special Rapporteur will address the issue, either through his report or through a communication addressed to the government,” she said.