Plan to open city-sanctioned, staffed homeless encampments proposed in San Francisco

The growing number of homeless encampments on the streets of San Francisco and unsanitary conditions have prompted city leaders to look for different ways to protect the unhoused against COVID-19.

City officials said there are not enough hotel rooms to house all of the homeless.

They are looking at a number of vacant spaces where they can put up encampments that will help protect the homeless.

There was a sad discovery at one site that is under consideration.

"She was laying down right here," said Ralph Schmidt-Dunker, who's homeless. He showed KTVU where he found a woman known as Valerie Sunday morning.

She died on the front steps of Everett Middle School in the mission, where she and others live in tents.

"There are a few of us who watch over each other's stuff," said Schmidt-Dunker.

Police said her death does not appear suspicious, but the cause is unknown.

Schmidt-Dunker said more people need to be off the streets, "Living out in this environment, a lot of us have been calling 311 for weeks."

He said he's tried unsuccessfully to get one of the hotel rooms the city has designated for the homeless during this pandemic.

"Of course hotels are the best. But at the rate we're going, we're a long way from offering everybody a hotel room," said San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. 

He pointed to the growing encampments in various parts of the city and the lack of sanitary conditions and social distancing.

In the shadow of San Francisco City Hall, KTVU  counted more than 60 tents on Fulton between Larkin and Hyde streets.

"We need to be honest about where we are and find solutions, even if they're not the best solutions, they're better than what we got," said Mandelman. 

He introduced the Safe Sleeping Sites resolution to use vacant lots for encampments with hygiene and staff.

He has partnered with San Francisco Unified School District's School Board President Mark Sanchez.

"Where there's staffing, access to toilets and sinks. That's a much better situation to be in," said Sanchez.

His resolution would provide the use of at least one district property such as the parking lot of Everett Middle School.

Kezar Stadium is also being considered.

Mayor London Breed's spokesman Jeff Cretan issued a written statement which said in part, "We are now currently moving vulnerable people off our streets and into hotels. We are also continuing to explore safe camping sites as an option." 

"It's dangerous. There are people who...they either have mental health issues or substance abuse issues where you never know what's going to happen," said Schmidt-Dunker.  

A candle now marks the site where the homeless woman was found Sunday.  

Both Mandelman's and Sanchez's resolutions to move the homeless into safe encampments are scheduled for a vote Tuesday, April 28th.

Mandelman hopes to have at least one site for a city-sanctioned encampment up and running in a few weeks.