SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — San Francisco city leaders are taking heat from Hayes Valley residents who say homeless people lit warming fires in their neighborhood for months. Residents said their warnings were ignored by the city until a massive 4-alarm blaze ignited Tuesday before dawn. The cause of the blaze has not been officially released.
Mayor London Breed responded to criticism over how the city handles its homeless population of 8,000 people.
The mayor wrote on X, formally known as Twitter, Wednesday, “We can’t force people to accept or stay in shelter and we’re unable to prevent people from setting up an encampment in area that was just cleaned. This is the situation we are in.”
How many people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco have refused to sleep in a shelter, despite being offered city services?
On Thursday, the city’s Department of Emergency Management released new data gathered by its Healthy Streets Operations Center.
In 2023, HSOC teams approached and engaged with 2,344 unsheltered people living on the streets. Of those 2,344 people, 1,065 accepted shelter services. Fifty-four percent of people experiencing homelessness — or 1,278 people — declined offers for shelter.
“We’ve also found that 153 had some form of shelter or housing, but were still living in encampments,” Francis Zamora of SFDEM told KRON4.
Back in Hayes Valley, HSOC’s street outreach teams engaged with 30 homeless people this year. Of those 30, 17 accepted shelter, and 13 declined.
City officials said moving homeless encampments helps keep public streets clean, safe, and accessible for all San Franciscans.
The data gathered by the Healthy Streets Operations Center does not include shelter placements made by other street outreach teams, such as the Homeless Outreach Team or Street Crisis Response Team.
Mayor Breed wrote, “Every day our outreach teams go out to help people. But what they can do is limited, and the pressure they are under is immense. They cannot monitor these sites 24/7 for illegal behavior. I want people to understand the challenges our outreach workers are facing every day. They are being filmed. They are being targeted just for doing their jobs. Even under these conditions, they are helping people into shelter.”
San Francisco is currently under a federal injunction that states, as long as the city’s “involuntarily” homeless population is larger than the number of shelter beds available, it cannot force a person to move from a public space. The federal case, Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco, blocks the city for enforcing laws prohibiting camping, sitting, or sleeping.
John T. Do, an attorney for the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California, said, “Yes, we have a serious homelessness problem in San Francisco. But forcing people who have no access to shelter to move from block to block is not the answer.”
According to the Coalition on Homelessness, about 4,000 people are forced to sleep on San Francisco’s streets at night because temporary shelter beds are at functional capacity.
The mayor said San Francisco will continue expanding shelter services. “We’ve increased shelter by 50% since 2018,” she added.