San Francisco city officials launch Healthy Streets Operations Center

City officials have recently launched the Healthy Streets Operations Center to better respond to homeless issues and street behavior.

The unified commander center was implemented in January and is located inside the Department of Emergency Management. Police Commander David Lazar said Healthy Streets began with a vision from late Mayor Ed Lee.

“At the end of 2017 he talked about, the need to have a unified command,” Lazar said. “We need to all come together, throughout the day, with all city departments and address in real time, the issue of homelessness and street behavior.”

The Department of Homelessness, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Public Health, 311, and police are all working together to coordinate a more efficient response, depending on the calls. If a report comes in about a homeless encampment or drug and mental health issues, the appropriate agency is deployed.

“We were calling each other or emailing, meeting once a week, but we weren’t as efficient as we are today,” Lazar said. “This just makes sense for us. It’s practical. Not only are we coordinating and collaborating on a daily basis, but we’re also now calling back individuals who call police about a homeless encampment.”

Mayor Mark Farrell, the Director of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Jeff Kositsky, and the Director of the Department of Public Works Mohammed Nuru showed KTVU how the Healthy Streets operation model has been put into practice before the command center even launched. Several months ago, Cesar Chavez and US 101 was once home to nearly 100 tents. 

“Due to the high level of coordination, the city managed to offer everyone staying here with a place to go, a shelter or navigation center bed,” Kositsky, the Director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said. “Social services helped with substance abuse. Folks who were suffering from serious mental illness were provided services.”

Kositsky said 70% of people they reached out to, took up the offer for help and shelter. The area was cleared and has stayed clean following the installation of boulders and regular maintenance.

“We were piloting this level of coordination in the Mission District and Civic Center so it was the precursor to the healthy streets operations center and what led to this level of coordination,” Kositsky said.

Nuru is excited about the new model.

“It allows all of us to sit down and say, ‘This is how we’re going to deal with this situation’, Nuru said. “Sometimes it’s a situation we may not be able to deal with right away so we can plan for a big clean-up and we’ll work with the Dep. of Homelessness to do outreach and tell people we are going to be doing a sweep.”
The command center is currently focused on 5 zones across the city where tent camps are common, with the goal of connecting people to the right services.

“We want to get them off the street, on their own two feet, and hopefully onto better lives,” Farrell said.

Lazar said Los Angeles and San Diego have reached out to inquire about Healthy Streets operations model as those cities try to deal with homeless issues as well.