San Francisco, Oakland mayors take on homeless problem, but their strategies differ

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell swept away a homeless tent encampment in the Mission District on Tuesday while across the Bay Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf expanded her use of Tuff Shed temporary homes to house those currently living on the streets in tents.

Farrell’s crackdown removed about 100 tents and their occupants in sites that lie beneath the Highway 101 overpass, using teams from the Departments of Public Works, Human Services, Homelessness and the Police Department. The former tent dwellers were offered space in temporary shelters and the city’s Navigation Centers.

“This is just the beginning. Tents should not be part of the permanent landscape in San Francisco. If, at the end of the day, a person resists everything we offer them in counseling, housing and other services, they shouldn’t be allowed to keep tents on the sidewalk,” Farrell said yesterday during the operation. “Maybe it takes a mayor not running for office to do it, but we need to clean up our streets throughout the city. We haven’t been pushing hard enough. We will now.”

Earlier this week, the business community in San Francisco, specifically the tourism industry, formed a coalition called CleanSafe365 to pressure mayoral candidates to address rising drug use, homelessness, crime and other dangerous behavior throughout the city. (Farrell has said repeatedly that he will not run for mayor.)

The coalition was created by the Hotel Council of San Francisco, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Travel Association, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, the Union Square Business Improvement District, and the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco.

The situation with street crime and drug use has become so dire, hotels throughout the city have heard from guests saying they won’t be coming back, Hotel Council Executive Director said this week. The council represents more than 100 San Francisco hotels.

The city’s tourism industry supports about 80,000 jobs, and brings in about $9 billion for the city each year. Of that, $725 million comes from local taxes.

The city will invest nearly $13 million over the next two years to establish teams to sweep through streets occupied by homeless people, offering assistance first, Farrell said. Other efforts include doubling the number of public toilet facilities to 10 and increasing the hours of operation, plus creating a fast-response team to handle syringes left on the streets by drug users.

In Oakland, Mayor Schaaf is taking a different approach. Schaaf is building temporary housing site, expanding the city’s use of Tuff Sheds to temporarily house 40 people at a site under the I-980 freeway exit near 27th and North Grand Avenue.

“The new site will have 20 Tuff Sheds, two people per shed, separate shipping containers for excess storage, it will have a dog run and a community space and office space for onsite social workers,” Schaaf said at a City Hall briefing on Tuesday.

People entering the city’s program will live up to six months in temporary housing and services while a permanent home will be sought, Schaaf said.

The first Tuff Shed site at Sixth and Brush Streets opened in December, according to a report in the East Bay Times. The temporary housing there enabled eight people to find permanent housing and 15 to find full-time work, the Times said.

“Street encampments are not healthy or safe for anyone,” Schaff said. “It’s not compassionate or effective to simply tell them to move on.”