SAN FRANCISCO - Dozens of activists marched through San Francisco's Tenderloin
neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, denouncing a plan by the city to move hundreds of homeless people from the area in accordance with a settlement between the city and the University of California Hastings College of Law, among others.
Less than two weeks ago, the city announced it had settled a
lawsuit filed by UC Hastings and the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association, among others.
In the suit, the plaintiffs called on the city to address unsanitary conditions on the neighborhood's sidewalks amid the coronavirus
Under the settlement agreement, the city will remove up to 300
tents, or 70 percent of the tents and encampments reported in the area during a recent June 5 census, by July 20. The tents and encampments' occupants will be offered free COVID-19 testing and be relocated to hotel rooms or other safe sleeping sites, city officials said.
According to the activists, made up of homeliness advocates, UC
Hastings students and Black Lives Matter organizers, the settlement agreement goes against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 guidelines for homeless people, which recommends that municipalities allow
homeless people living on the streets to stay where they are, as clearing encampments could possibly increase the risk of infection.
The activists are also seeking to shed light on the criminalization of homeless people, in particular the city's Black homeless residents. The activists allege that criminalization will only worsen if the
settlement is enforced.
"When they come and do the sweeps and move the tents, it's [Department of Public Works] the HOT team (Homeless Outreach Team) and the police," said Tracie Mixon, a formerly homeless resident, now affiliated with Coalition on Homelessness.
Police on a cell phone video of an encampment clearing in the Tenderloin said they were present to make sure "no one gets hurt."
During the rally, which began at 3 p.m., activists gathered
outside UC Hastings before marching to the police station in the Tenderloin, chanting things like "Black lives matter" and "defund the police."
"Historic police enforcement of homelessness through citations,
move along orders, and daily harassment has no place in our city and must be stopped," the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness said in a statement.
"UC Hastings has chosen human removal over human rights--a
dangerous precedent. Now is the time for more justice--not more racism," Joe Wilson, executive director of Hospitality House, said.
"It is clear that the lawsuit places the public health of housed
residents and businesses over the public health of the homeless community. Despite Mayor Breed calling for a reform to end police responses to non-criminal activities, community organizations have already witnessed an increased police presence in the Tenderloin as a result of this settlement," Wilson said.
The activists are demanding that some of the San Francisco Police Department's more than $700 million budget be reallocated to create more affordable housing measures like permanent supportive housing and vouchers, create more safe sleeping sites and shelters, and expand mental health services, particularly for Black community members.
The activists have also sent a letter to UC Hastings Chancellor
and Dean David Faigman, denouncing the settlement and alleging it will lead to increased police presence and exacerbate the criminalization of homeless people.
Rhiannon Bailard, UC Hastings' executive director of operations,
said that both the school and the activists have a shared goal, which is to provide alternative housing sites for the homeless, prioritizing both hotel rooms and safe sleeping sites.
She said UC Hastings is already seeing results from the settlement.
"I've got clearer access to get down the street. I no longer have to walk down the middle of the street," Bailard said.
Rene Colorado, a San Francisco Tenderloin resident who owns two restaurants in the neighborhood and is a member of Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners' Association, said he was recently "ambushed" by a person who was "injecting drugs" for no reason.
He agreed that the city's cleanup efforts have made a difference, calling the cleanup a "vast improvement."
Video of one Tenderloin alley in May shows a large encampment that had existed, but now that alley has virtually been cleared and public restrooms are present.
Coalition on Homelessness had one suggestion as an alternative to sweeps.
"They need to close down some streets, so that there's more space during the pandemic for people to move around like they've done in other neighborhoods," said Jennifer Friedenbach with the Coalition on Homelessness.
While Bailard recognized the importance of the activists shedding
light on the plight of the area's Black and Brown homeless residents, she added, "But we can't forget the residents of the Tenderloin, often forgotten; the low-income, people of color, the disabled, and children.
"It's important that while we're amplifying the voices of the
unhoused, we also amplify the voices of the residents of the Tenderloin," she said.
The settlement still needs San Francisco Board of Supervisors' approval, if not, UC Hastings can proceed with their lawsuit.
KTVU's Amber Lee contributed to this story.