San Francisco leaders have shown wide support for an initiative to create Safe Sleeping Sites in an effort to physically distance and provide services to homeless individuals living in tent encampments during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While most residents have been able to stay inside homes during shelter-in-place orders, unhoused persons lack safe living options unless they meet specific guidelines for placement into hotel rooms being temporarily leased by The City.

During the April 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said:

“Tent encampments are growing largely without adequate social distancing or access to hygiene and sanitation creating a public public hazard for encampment occupants and neighbors.”

In response to the growing encampments, Mandelman introduced an alternative last month that asked city officials to consider using vacant parking lots and garages as Safe Sleeping Sites. The resolution, passed unanimously by the BOS April 28, calls for marked tent spaces at least 6 feet apart from each other, bathrooms, handwashing stations, drinking water, garbage disposal and a safety plan with 24-hour staff available at each site. 

Everett Middle School in the Castro is among locations being considered — all school campuses in The City have been shuttered since March. The ample space in parking lots and on playgrounds makes closed school facilities an ideal temporary solution.

Jesse Garnier/SFBay Tents and cardboard boxes are seen on the front steps of Everett Middle School in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.

The program is still pending the mayor’s approval, but tents are already seen on the front steps of the campus. 

The San Francisco Board of Education unanimously passed their own resolution in support of the Safe Sleeping Sites initiative, which they announced in a press release issued Monday.

Supervisor Dean Preston, a sponsor of the resolution, said this a good alternative as The City has been slow to move homeless people into hotel rooms. Preston said:

“With The City failing to provide temporary shelter to so many folks who are homeless on the street, we’ve had increased calls from neighbors for The City to act urgently with solutions to allow homeless people to shelter-in-place. These calls have grown exponentially over the last couple of weeks.”

Breed signaled support in an April 25 Medium blog post, writing that The City is working to open Safe Camping Sites but providing no timeline for opening of the first site. She echoed that support in on Twitter Wednesday in a thread discussion about the homeless condition in the Tenderloin.

The mayor has 10 days from April 28 to sign or reject the BOS resolution. 

Board President Mark Sanchez said in a statement:

“More than 8,000 people are without shelter in San Francisco. I’m proud of our Board and our District for stepping up and leaning in to do our part to help out in a citywide effort to confront the epidemic of homelessness that has become a deeper crisis during the Coronavirus pandemic.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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