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Prop Q tents measure rarely used

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Toni Machado stands outside her tent with Peanut Butter,<br>her rat terrier. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn
Toni Machado stands outside her tent with Peanut Butter,
her rat terrier. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn  

After being one of the most contentious issues on San Francisco's ballot last November, Proposition Q, which allows the city to remove homeless peoples' tents after issuing 24-hour notice and offering shelter, hasn't yet been used much.

Voters narrowly passed the measure, which is now known as Police Code Section 169, by about 52 percent.

Jeff Kositsky, director of the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which has been tasked with overseeing Prop Q's implementation, wasn't made available for an interview, but Jess Montejano, legislative aide to Supervisor Mark Farrell, who authored Prop Q, provided information from Kositsky.

According to Kositsky, Montejano said, 30 Prop Q notices have been issued in the city's Mission district.

"DHSH is putting in a more systematic system to use citywide, but has focused on Q enforcement in the Mission," said Montejano. "There has been no involuntary removal of tents to date" by police or the Department of Public Works.

About 80 percent of the people noticed accepted shelter, but officials couldn't say what had happened to the other 20 percent.

"Jeff said 90 percent of the time relationship building through his tent encampment resolution team gets the job done, and for the other 10 percent that Q is and will be an effective tool to let tent encampment residents know they are serious about resolving an encampment without issuing tickets or getting [police] involved," said Montejano.

"Prop Q is one tool that we have, but not the only tool," he said. "To date, we haven't used it formally, as people have taken their tents down and moved on when warned that Prop Q is an available option. ... Prop Q is not always an option as it depends on the availability of shelter."

In response to emailed questions about what Kositsky meant by getting "the job done," DHSH spokesman Randy Quezada said that as far as he could tell, Kositsky was talking about working with people to get them into "safe places," which is often a Navigation Center, but is occasionally a traditional shelter, treatment, or the Homeward Bound program. That program provides one-way bus tickets to homeless people so they can be reunited with family or friends who can offer support.

Asked about how the city is tracking what happens to people who are removed from their tents, Quezada said the agency's improved its data system.

"Once fully implemented, the online navigation and entry system will give us a lot more insight into how people are utilizing the broader homeless services system," he said.

Data lacking

The city doesn't have many statistics on what happens to people when they do leave their tents.

In recent years, the city's been developing more Navigation Centers, rather than just relying on traditional homeless shelters. The centers allow people to bring their belongings and pets and stay with their partners, among other benefits.

But in June, the San Francisco Public Press reported that "After two years, fewer than a quarter of the nearly 1,200 people who entered the first two Navigation Centers have been placed in verified long-term housing. ... More than one-quarter of all who have passed through since 2015 have become homeless again."

Quezada couldn't immediately verify those figures, but he said the agency "is working to create more pathways out of homelessness," such as creating more Navigation Centers and expanding the supply of permanent supportive housing.

"Also, we are piloting the use of rental subsidies for adults," he said. "Rental subsidies have been used to help families exit homelessness, and we are exploring this type of intervention with adults."

Montejano said the ballot measure was meant to "supplement" DHSH's work, rather than be "a panacea to homelessness or tent encampments."

"The intent of Prop Q was to send a strong message to San Francisco residents that more than anything, we believe individuals living in tents on our streets is not OK," he said.

Toni Machado, 55, who's been staying in a tent on San Bruno Avenue in the city's South of Market area, said she hadn't heard of Prop Q.

Machado, who's bisexual, said she hasn't received any formal removal notices to leave the area, but members of the city's Homeless Outreach Team have told her, "You better move before the cops come here and take all your stuff."

"We've got to keep moving all the time," she said.

Couper Orona, a 44-year-old lesbian who's been staying in a tent on Division Street, about two blocks from Machado, said Prop Q "gives no help whatsoever."

"Most of us would be willing to move ... if they had some place else for us to go," said Orona.

She said she's already on "every housing list you can imagine," and when she stayed in a Navigation Center, "they weren't able to find me housing within 30 days. ... They kicked me out with nothing but for me to go back to the street."

And like many homeless people who have talked to the Bay Area Reporter, Orona said, "The shelters are worse than the streets." Among other problems, she said, there's "a lot of mental illness" in the shelters.


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