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4,800-plus calls a month on homeless in SF

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Tents on Brannan Street, near Ninth Street, behind the<br>Fitness SF gym. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn <br><br><br><br><br><br><br>
Tents on Brannan Street, near Ninth Street, behind the
Fitness SF gym. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn 


San Francisco's police and customer service departments have received an average of more than 4,800 calls a month this year related to homeless people, according to city data.

The data includes duplicated calls, where someone contacted the 311 customer service or 911 police emergency lines more than once for the same incident, but Sam Dodge, deputy director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, acknowledged it's still "a high number."

"Locally, we do a lot to try to help people in crisis, but for me it really speaks to the need to have more shelter, to have more Navigation Centers, to have more supportive housing, and that's what those calls represent to me, is a real community demand for places for people to be, to help them," said Dodge.

The city's Department of Emergency Management provided more than 29,000 records to the Bay Area Reporter, reflecting calls that came in from January 1 through July 11.

Many of the calls are for areas where homeless people living in tents are common, including Division Street and San Bruno Avenue in the South of Market area. There are also several records for spots in the Castro, Mission, and other neighborhoods. It wasn't possible to immediately determine which of the calls were related to people in tents.

Almost all of the calls were marked as priority "C," which DEM spokesman Francis Zamora said in an email "is the lowest priority call. C calls are typically quality of life calls."

About 500 calls are marked "B," which "is generally used for a crime that has occurred" but where life or safety "is not at risk," said Zamora.

Almost 50 of the calls were "A" priority, usually meaning there's "a life/safety emergency that requires immediate response," he said.

Dispositions of the calls were more varied.

In about 7,000 cases, the situation was "Handled," and in approximately 6,000, the subject was "Gone on arrival." Citations were issues in around 1,300 cases, and about 10,600 indicate the subject was "Advised."

Dodge said Mayor Ed Lee's office convened a group of department heads that includes Jeff Kositsky, director of the city's homelessness and supportive housing department, as well as officials from the health, fire, police, 311, public works, and other departments.

"It was really to look at when a community member is calling in around an incident, how do we route the calls so there is a proper response?" said Dodge. He said if someone's called about a person having a mental health crisis, the city shouldn't be sending a cleaning crew from public works.

Officials want to ensure that people know what's available and what will be done, and that there's follow-up after a situation is addressed, said Dodge.

The goal is to have a new process and guidelines by this fall, but Dodge said officials also want to make sure it's done right.

With the "huge volume" of 311 and 911 calls, "it's important that we're able to respond and be at the service of people in the city and county, but it's also important that we just don't spin our wheels, and that we're actually able to make progress and help people in need," said Dodge.

"I'm on the receiving end from a lot of stuff from 311 and people's emails, and I understand the volume is very high," said Dodge. "I think it really does speak to people's concerns about the current situation and the need for solutions, and somewhat that the tools that are being applied don't really work."

He said that callers "want a resolution of the issue, but what is able to happen is a cop goes out and talks to them or the homeless outreach team or public works cleans up," but the data reflect the lack of housing and shelter available in the city.

"People have to be somewhere," said Dodge. "The assumption is call 311 and they can be disappeared somehow, and that's just not possible. We do our best to house and shelter everyone, but we're challenged with not enough shelter beds and not enough housing options."


The Fitness SF gym at 1001 Brannan Street in South of Market is near where many people have set up tents in recent years. An elevated section of Highway 101 in the area provides shelter from the elements, and there isn't much across from the gym except for a large parking lot and street parking that's empty at night.

On a recent Tuesday morning, a man who's been in a tent near the gym for a couple months referred to tents in the area as "an eyesore."

"Damn, look at this shit," said John, who didn't want to give his last name. "This shit is how people are living in this city."

He didn't know whether anyone had made calls about tents in the area, but he said the homeless outreach team had just been there. He was hoping to get into housing or a Navigation Center, where people can bring their belongings and stay with their partners.

John said he feels safe in the tent. Shelley, who was sitting inside the tent, said, "I don't like being by myself down here at night, but as long as we're together, I feel safe."

A worker at the gym who answered the phone recently said that people have complained "a little bit. They've asked if we were going to do anything about the tents, just because it's so close to the parking lot."

The woman, who didn't want her name published, said her co-workers have called police "a couple of times," but she wasn't sure if officers had shown up.

"I don't think it's a huge problem, and I don't see it getting better," she said. "I think these people are just looking for a place to live. It's a really sad situation that they're out here on the street, but I don't see it as a huge problem, nor do I feel they're threatening when I walk by."


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