SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco is joining other U.S. cities in authorizing homeless tent encampments in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move officials have long resisted but are now reluctantly embracing to safeguard homeless people.
About 80 tents are now neatly spaced out on a wide street near San Francisco City Hall as part of a “safe sleeping village” opened last week. The area between the city's central library and its Asian Art Museum is fenced off to outsiders, monitored around the clock and provides meals, showers, clean water and trash pickup.
In announcing the encampment, and a second one to open in the famed Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, San Francisco's mayor acknowledged that she didn't want to approve tents, but having unregulated tents mushroom on sidewalks was neither safe nor fair.
“So while in normal times I would say that we should focus on bringing people inside and not sanctioning tent encampments, we frankly do not have many other options right now,” she said in a tweet last week.
San Francisco has moved 1,300 homeless people into hotel rooms and RVs as part of a statewide program to shelter vulnerable people, but the mayor has been criticized for moving too slowly. She has said she is not inclined to move all the city's estimated 8,000 homeless into hotels, despite complaints from advocates who say overcrowded tents are a public health disaster.
San Francisco is just the latest city to authorize encampments as shelters across the country move to thin bed counts so homeless people, who are particularly susceptible to the virus due to poor health, have more room to keep apart.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter on Friday ordered that an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 homeless people living near freeways be relocated by Sept. 1 after an agreement on a plan with the city and county fell through. In his ruling, Carter said the people face a health risk emergency.