Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

LGBT homeless advocates
boo as park closure passes


Supervisor London Breed voted against the park closure ordinance.(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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A divided San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted 6-5 to close city parks between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., setting off howls of protest from LGBT homeless advocates and other opponents.

The ordinance, by gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, had the support of Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisors Mark Farrell, Katy Tang, Norman Yee, and Malia Cohen.

Supervisors Eric Mar, London Breed, David Campos, Jane Kim, and John Avalos voted against it.

Wiener authored the measure to address overnight vandalism in city parks, which has included dumping of household appliances, graffiti, chopping up benches, and once, a park restroom being subjected to explosives.

Homeless advocates had argued that the measure would unfairly target LGBT homeless people who had nowhere else to go. LGBTs account for 29 percent of the city's homeless population, according to a survey released in June. Many have reported being subjected to violence in homeless shelters and have said that the parks offer a safe alternative.

As the November 5 board meeting proceeded, it appeared that the measure might not pass. Breed, whose district includes the Lower Haight, was the first to announce that she would be voting against the measure.

"As the supervisor for District 5 it would be irresponsible for me not to think about this, not to consider what will happen if homeless people are evicted from the parks and wind up sleeping on the doorsteps of my constituents in the Haight, the Inner Sunset, or Buena Vista," Breed said. "That would be worse for the neighborhoods and the homeless."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Mar, who called the measure "mean-spirited."

Campos said that he thought the measure was introduced by well-meaning people, but that he could not support it.

"As a gay man I am mindful of the fact that 29 percent of our homeless are queer," he said. "Many don't feel safe in shelters. They sleep in the parks because they feel safe."

Campos said that San Francisco needed to follow the example set in New York City, where it's required by law to provide a homeless person with a bed when they're removed from parks or streets.

"How we treat the homeless says a lot about who we are," he said. "I know that people mean well, but this is not the way to go."

Both Campos and Kim expressed concern that the measure would lead to racial profiling among the homeless. Kim was also worried about the plight of transgender homeless people.

"Who gets to decide who gets targeted?" asked Kim. "A young person of color in a hoodie? We are opening the door to a ton of discrimination. I think we all know who is going to get targeted."

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said that the department keeps records of criminal citations according to race, specifically to prevent racial profiling from occurring.

"We keep race and gender statistics for the purpose of transparency," he said.

Kim was not placated. "I stayed in a shelter, I saw the LGBT bias," she said. "Especially transgender bias."

Chiu attempted to address these concerns.

"We support increased homeless services," he said. "We are trying to address vandalism in the parks, which we know are not being done by the homeless."

Wiener said that the parks are for everyone to enjoy and that the vandalism needed to be stopped.

"All sides of this issue are passionate," said Wiener. "We are passionate about getting people housed and stopping vandalism. Union leaders and park gardeners have told us that they are tired of seeing the parks trashed. They are not mean-spirited. They don't believe in selective enforcement or targeting LGBT people. They are passionate about our parks. They want people from all walks of life to enjoy our parks."

The measure was then put to a vote. It passed with a last minute amendment, which states that when people are cited for sleeping in the park, they can only be cited for violating the existing code against sleeping in the park, not for violating the park closure ordinance. The amendment was designed to prevent police from citing people twice for the same incident. Wiener supported the amendment.

Homeless advocates gathered outside the board chamber to express their outrage at the passage.

"It's illegal for a homeless person to be in the park," said longtime activist Trey Allen, "but not for people walking their dogs who make 50 grand."

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