On May 29, the former McDonald’s at 730 Stanyan opened as a sanctioned tent site. Less than two weeks later, Supervisor Dean Preston (who represents the Haight and is up for re-election this November) already declared it a “HUGE SUCCESS.” But how is this “success” measured?
Some are evaluating 730 Stanyan based on subjective qualities; however, we believe the project’s success must be evaluated on identifiable and measurable objective standards. Are there still tents on the sidewalks? Are there still clusters of homeless people on the street not social distancing? Are neighbors still being impacted by negative behavior from the homeless population, such as yelling, fighting and drug use? Unfortunately, the answer to all these questions has been a resounding “yes.” As such, we’re puzzled by how anyone could call this site a success for the Haight.
Despite being repeatedly told that the site would serve “hyper-local populations,” tent dwellers from other neighborhoods, such as Divisadero, have been added to the site since many homeless people in the Haight refused to participate. Further, there’s been the issue of backfilling — when tents are taken off the sidewalk, new tents simply replace them. For example, prior to the site’s opening, there were three tents outside the site on Waller Street. After claiming victory by convincing two of those tents to move into 730 Stanyan, two new tents have now replaced them on the sidewalk near Waller & Shrader.
Moreover, a number of those from the problematic Masonic encampment (which was disbanded after our efforts to show the true picture of what that corner was like — see video here) now simply bounce back-and-forth between different corners of Haight Street. Sadly, we’ve seen that the only way to get City officials to take action has been to publicly post images and videos, such as the one below that is two blocks from the 730 Stanyan site.
An objective person would be hard-pressed to describe this situation two blocks from 730 Stanyan as a “HUGE SUCCESS.”
Comparison to Other Neighborhoods
The level of City attention a community receives can vary wildly depending on the neighborhood. We’ve spoken to neighborhood allies in other parts of the city and highlighted some of the differences in responsiveness from City officials.
On May 16, the City opened its first sanctioned tent site in the Tenderloin. A few weeks prior, UC Hastings and other residents/businesses sued the City due to the mass increase in tents in the Tenderloin, among other homeless- and drug-related problems. Recently, the parties agreed to settle:
The settlement, filed [June 12], requires the city to remove 70% of the tents crowding the neighborhood’s sidewalks in just over a month and to get those living in them into vacant hotel rooms or sanctioned encampment sites…The city also agreed to “discourage additional people from erecting tents in the neighborhood” and committed to employing ill-defined “enforcement measures” for people who refuse to accept an offer of a shelter bed or a spot in a sanctioned tent encampment.
In early June, there were 443 tents scattered throughout the Tenderloin’s 49 blocks. As of June 30, that number had already decreased to 172 and is continuing to fall.
On June 8, the City opened its third sanctioned tent site at Everett Middle School in the Castro. To date, no other sites have opened. The launch of the site in the Castro was handled substantially differently from 730 Stanyan: Supervisor Mandelman (who represents the Castro) spent weeks publicly discussing the site and communicating with residents; and the site’s timeline is limited to approximately one month, at which time the site must be shut down and folks in the site must have exit plans. By comparison, 730 Stanyan has a three- to six-month timeline.
Unsurprisingly, the neighborhood that received the most preferential treatment was the Marina. Despite the City telling other neighborhoods that encampments could not be moved, the City cleared out the tent encampment behind the Marina Safeway and neighbors received support from Supervisor Stefani (who represents the Marina), saying:
For weeks, I have been going out to this location every day to monitor what’s going on and communicate to our departments that allowing camping, drug use, and threats of violence to persist does not serve our public health goals. I will not let up until we reach a solution that ensures that neighbors, Safeway customers, and those living outside are safe.
Further, shortly after the City announced that the Palace of Fine Arts would serve as a homeless shelter for 162 people, the City quickly reversed course and abandoned these plans based on neighborhood input.
By comparison, most of the community outreach for 730 Stanyan was done after the site was already announced. For example, the site was publicly announced on May 15 and Supervisor Preston hosted his first public meeting about it on May 20. Also, when Supervisor Preston was asked if Ida B. Wells High School could be assessed as a potential tent site, he said that it would not be considered because the City would not open a tent site if the land had to go back to the school district in the Fall. Interestingly, in the Castro, Supervisor Mandelman advocated for and opened a tent site at Everett Middle School without a problem.
Ida B. Wells has a much larger empty lot than 730 Stanyan, is centrally located to serve the encampments in the Haight, Divisadero and Hayes Valley areas, and has existing infrastructure such as a newly remodeled adult kitchen, water, electricity, and bathrooms. Interestingly, Supervisor Preston refused to acknowledge any suggestion that the City assess Ida B. Wells as a sanctioned tent site, which we believe is largely because the supervisor’s multi-million dollar home is next door to Ida B. Wells.
It appears that Supervisor Preston has shown himself to be the biggest NIMBY in District 5 — refusing to open a tent site at a location removed from foot traffic in his own neighborhood, but supporting a heavily trafficked location in another neighborhood.
Public Records Request
Due to the conflicting information we were receiving regarding who was responsible for managing 730 Stanyan and what policies and procedures were in place, we requested records regarding 730 Stanyan from Supervisor Preston’s office. After weeks of non-responsiveness, Safe Healthy Haight submitted an official public records request to the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (“DEM”), which oversees the City’s Safe Sleeping Site program. We asked for, among other things, the following documents:
- Request: the finalized agreement with Larkin Street Youth Services (the homeless service provider who contracted with the City);
- Response: DEM provided an unsigned, draft agreement.
- Request: the subcontract between Larkin Street Youth Services and Homeless Youth Alliance (the homeless service provider managing the site);
- Response: DEM did not provide any agreement.
- Request: the site management plan;
- Response: DEM said that they did not possess any management or operation plans for 730 Stanyan. However, we did obtain the “CAMP Operations Plan” plan from other sources, but based on DEM’s unawareness of this document, we’re unsure whether this it has been approved by the City.
Given that there is still a fair amount of missing documents/agreements, we are waiting to write a full summary of the public records. We will continue to follow up with the City in an effort to ascertain whether these documents simply don’t exist, haven’t been signed yet, or are not being sent to us for some reason.
The one area of concern we will raise for residents right now is that the CAMP Operations Plan says: “The program is scheduled to close on approximately October 30, 2020. In addition the city may terminate or extend the program at any time.” Further, the unsigned version of the agreement between Larkin Street and the City states: “The term of this Agreement shall commence on May 15, 2020 and expire on December 31, 2020.”
This is incredibly alarming as the City repeatedly communicated that this site was a short-term solution that would be open no more than six months, but it seems they’ve already given themselves leeway to potentially extend the program indefinitely.
It also raises the question of why the Castro site is able to get people off the street, into services, and exit them into permanent housing, hotels or Homeward Bound in a 1-month timeframe, but the Upper Haight will need 3-6 months to accomplish the same goal?
Over the past month, Safe Healthy Haight has repeatedly invited Supervisor Preston to attend a virtual meeting with our more than 500 members. We want to have an honest and straightforward conversation with him about our mission: a safe, clean and healthy neighborhood for all, and a plan for getting unhoused folks into real housing. Unfortunately, Supervisor Preston has made it clear that he will only speak to neighborhood groups that unequivocally share his views.
For example, we recently learned that multiple Upper Haight neighborhood associations had a call with Supervisor Preston on April 20th to discuss a potential location for a safe sleeping site in District 5. At the meeting he shared that 730 Stanyan was his preferred site above all others, although he would later claim that this was not his top site. When these neighborhood groups voiced their concerns, especially with such significant lack of details, they were ignored going forward and removed from the community feedback process. Instead, Supervisor Preston relied on his echo chamber of supporters to solicit input on the site.
Currently, the leadership of Safe Healthy Haight is having similar issues with non-responsiveness to our meeting request. This is particularly frustrating since Supervisor Preston has already met with an organized group of neighbors who wholeheartedly support him and the site. Once again, he is showing that he will only include neighbors in the conversation if they agree with him, and further perpetuating his “us vs. them” mentality by selectively choosing which neighbors he’ll engage with.
What can you do? Please write Supervisor Preston (Dean.Preston@sfgov.org) and ask him to (1) honor his commitment that the site would not be open for more than six months and (2) ask him to set up a meeting with the members of Safe Healthy Haight.
Don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list, follow us on Twitter, and join our Facebook group. Thanks to all of our members for the continued support, and let’s continue advocating for clean streets and a safe neighborhood for all.