San Francisco Examiner, May 5, 2020
By Joshua Sabatini
The Recreation and Park Department would have to submit a plan by May 18 identifying places where homeless people can camp in public parks during the coronavirus pandemic, under legislation introduced by Supervisor Sandra Fewer Tuesday. Fewer announced her intention to introduce the proposal to allow for temporary Safe Sleeping Sites in public parks last week, but said she was still working out the details. The legislation, which is cosponsored by Supervisor Gordon Mar, stops short of requiring The City to establish the sites. But it requires the department to prepare a report identifying park areas that could be used as temporary shelters or for other uses such as testing facilities. Fewer noted that the legislation does not allow people to camp freely in parks, but gives the city the option to use Rec and Park land where suitable. She said she envisions sites that have about 40 to 60 tents, 12 feet apart on less than one acre of land, along with amenities like drinking water, handwashing stations, bathrooms and sanitation. Fewer intends to have the full board vote on the legislation next week. As an emergency ordinance it would require at least of the 8 of 11 votes to approve and only one vote. The legislation, which suspends park laws to allow for the Safe Sleeping Sites, would remain in effect for 60 days. San Francisco has “a long history of using parks to respond to emergencies,” according to the legislation. “For example, tens of thousands found temporary shelter and medical care in Golden Gate Park and other City parks after the 1906 Earthquake, and in 2016, the City established a temporary shelter in the County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park to protect homeless residents from the El Niño storms,” the legislation said. The report would need to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors and posted to its website. “People living in the growing number of tents on the streets of the Richmond District and all over the City have nowhere to go, especially because all movement off the streets into shelters is frozen,” Fewer said in a statement. “The first preference, of course, is to get unhoused people into vacant hotel rooms. But in the meantime, we need other options for people who are living on our sidewalks.” “With 3,400 acres of Rec & Park land in San Francisco, surely we can set aside a few that are suitable for unhoused people to shelter in place,” she continued. The legislation was blasted by the Recreation and Park Department. “This is nothing but a political stunt,” said Rec and Park spokesperson Sarah Madland, adding that it was also “unnecessary” since non-recreational activities in parks are permitted under Mayor London Breed’s emergency declaration issued in February. “The City’s emergency response is centrally coordinated by the Emergency Operation Center, not by an individual supervisor,” Madland said. “This proposed legislation misses the fact that parks are among the few things currently open and heavily used—both by the city in its emergency response and by citizens in desperate need of time outdoors for their physical health and mental well-being.” The proposal comes as homeless advocates and members of the board continue to call on Breed to move thousands of homeless out of shelters and from the streets into hotel rooms, as was directed under legislation the board recently passed. Breed has called the board’s legislation unrealistic and her administration has moved less than 1,000 homeless persons into hotel rooms to date. At least one group of nonprofits, impatient with The City’s efforts, has taken matters into its own hands and set up a formal camp in a Bayview District park.