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Thursday, January 27, 2022

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News + PoliticsBreed's office denies reality in hearing on Tenderloin state of emergency

Breed’s office denies reality in hearing on Tenderloin state of emergency

There's not much available housing. There's not enough medical care. And the mayor's staff denies that the city even does homeless sweeps. Oh: But the cops are making more busts.

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The disconnect between what the mayor is saying about the Tenderloin and what her staff is telling the supervisors was again on display today as the board held another hearing on the State of Emergency proclamation.

A few hours before the hearing started, the Mayor’s Office issued a press release announcing that her office has signed a lease for a new “linkage center.” She also said her staff had moved 59 people into non-congregant shelters in the past week—and the cops have made 33 drug arrests.

“The city doesn’t do sweeps?” Any homeless person can tell you the opposite.

But 58, the mayor’s staff testified, is close the total number of available rooms in non-congregant shelters; the city has opened 85. And there are no concrete plans to add any more.

In fact, there’s very limited capacity in drug treatment and behavioral health centers, meaning the “linkage” center doesn’t necessarily link to anything more than short-term solutions.

Dr. Hillary Kunins, the city’s director of behavioral health, said that “if we run into capacity issues, we will actively problem-solve them.”

But that doesn’t mean there are more beds. Kunins said the city is actively looking for more—but the State of Emergency hasn’t made any difference in that.

Sup. Dean Preston asked Emily Cohen, deputy director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, if any additional shelter beds or housing units are now available under the State of Emergency.

Cohen: No: The city is “utilizing existing resources.”

Are there plans to expand?

Cohen: Not beyond what the city would do anyway.

In other words: Breed is moving resources away from other neighborhoods to make room for people from the Tenderloin, but there’s no new housing.

Among the more astonishing statements from the hearing:

—Preston asked the mayor’s staff if there have been recent sweeps of homeless people in the Tenderloin.

Answer: “The city doesn’t do sweeps.”

Q: “Did people involuntarily have their tents removed?”

A: “no.”

That’s news to Tracey Mixon, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness. I called her tonight and ran that statement by her, and she was astonished.

“Of course they do sweeps, all the time,” she said. “And people have their possessions taken, all the time.”

—If the Mayor’s Office says that this declaration will allow them access to city funds to more quickly solve problems, it hasn’t happened yet. City Controller Ben Rosenfield said the Mayor’s Office has not requested any new transfers of money.

—The declaration would allow the Department of Public Health to more quickly fill more than 250 vacant positions in behavioral health, which Sup. Hillary Ronen said was why she supported the measure. DPH says they are going to fill 200 of those jobs in the next 90 days. But the department admitted that there’s never been a time in history when that many jobs were filled that quickly.

—Although a key part of the mayor’s strategy involves law enforcement, nobody from the San Francisco Police Department showed up at the hearing, although Board President Shamann Walton said they were invited. So nobody knows right now how many of the 33 new arrests involved major drug sales, minor drug sales, or simple possession (although we do know that the jail population is more than 900 people for the first time since March, 2020, and, according to the Public Defender’s Office, according to the most recent numbers from the Sheriff’s Office (as of 12/29/21) there were/are 11 individuals in custody who are positive with COVID and 18 individuals in custody who “have recovered.”

—Sup. Aaron Peskin asked what role California Pacific Medical Center is playing in helping with this, and said in his discussions with CPMC’s director, Dr. Warren Browner, he got the impression that the answer is not much. Sup. Myrna Melgar, a former Planning Commission member, noted that the Community Benefits Agreement requires the hospital to serve 5,400 new city residents who are on Medicare, 1,500 of them in the Tenderloin. From the reports she got on planning, they “have made very little progress.”

But the Mayor’s Office has at this point done nothing to enforce that agreement or use the power of the State of Emergency to demand that CPMC help out.

Preston said that most of the conversation on the proclamation “ignores the context—policing. The mayor has made very clear that this is a law-enforcement effort. She has not backed away from those statements.”

But, he noted, “the plan was carefully written to avoid the SFPD. Who are we kidding?”

He asked Andres Power, the mayor’s policy director, whether Breed stands by her statements that she is “going to make life hell” for drug users in the Tenderloin.

Power: “I can’t speak for the mayor.”

Preston: “Does the mayor stand by her statement that she will enforce the sit-lie laws?”

Power: “I can’t speak for the mayor.”

Preston: “Will you commit to stop winding down the SIP hotel program?”

Power: “I can’t comment on that.”

In other words: Breed refuses to show up at these hearings after asking for a state of emergency. Her poor staff has to walk back everything she says. Joe Eskenazi at MissionLocal says it looks like “John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly Walks:

So the tough talk and calls for more cops and “making life hell” for street drug users — that’s political theater, a sop for people who like slapping their palm on the table and shouting “about damn time!” and fodder for a lazy, bogus media storyline about a liberal, big-city mayor’s “pivot.” 

For the city workers, nonprofit employees, and community members who’ll be expected to do the work on the ground to make meaningful change happen in the Tenderloin, this is maddening. 

In meetings with community members, city officials tasked with carrying out the mayor’s “plan” were “walking back what she said so hard it looked like John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly Walks,” said one attendee. 

And the supes still can’t get direct answers.

Peskin asked the board to continue the hearing to Feb. 8, so the supes could keep on top of what’s happening. That passed 8-3. Melgar voted No; she said they had given the mayor 90 days, and that the supes should respect that. Joining here were Sup. Catherine Stefani and Sup. Rafael Mandelman.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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