Jul 21, 2013
Grand jury recommends city start tracking results of outreach to homeless in Golden Gate Park
There was a surge of camping and littering near the McKinley Memorial earlier this summer, and fortunately it seems to be waning. Besides what I can see for myself when I visit the park, each week when I get the email newsletter from Park Station - which contains a list of the week's citations - I open up the document and search for "Panhandle." The times of enforcement varied, but often showed that police were out in the middle of the night to roust campers in the Panhandle. For a while, the citations, for camping, nighttime sleeping (not allowed 8pm-8am), and alcohol use were increasing in frequency, and now they are tapering off.
Camping in the park has a long history, and areas beyond the Panhandle are even more severely affected. Now a new report by the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury offers recommendations for how San Francisco should change its response to "park dwellers" in Golden Gate Park. See the list of current reports to find a link to download the report, published June 20 and called "Golden Gate Park’s Homeless Population: Are San Francisco’s Policies Serving Us Well?"
The Grand Jury's report examined what these individuals need, how the city enforces park rules, and how to address litter accumulation that results from camping. The report has little descriptive information about park dwellers, though it characterizes population of park dwellers in the eastern edge of the park (Panhandle, Alvord Lake, McLaren lodge area) as younger and more transient. Not having been here long, they are less likely to be familiar with city services than typical park dwellers in western end of the park.
The report delivers a straightforward description of the recent history of San Francisco's homeless outreach strategies. The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) initially started up in the downtown are and then expanded to the park since about 2007. Their tactic was to drop in on encampments at 4 am to engage park dwellers. It has been successful, at least as judged by the fact that the percentage of the homeless living in parks or on the streets, which used to stand at over 50 percent, is now down to about 28 percent. However when the success of HOT plateaued, it became inefficient to continue the same outreach strategy month after month. There is now a shift to a new outreach model, Engagement Specialist Teams (EST) and the EST's aren't yet serving the park yet. Instead, SFPD and Park Patrol have been handed responsibility for outreach and enforcement. Homeless outreach has been incorporated into SFPD officers' training (but not park patrol training), so when they approach park dwellers, they issue citations and offer homeless services information. However, one of the report's conclusion is that citing people for camping or nighttime sleeping isn't an effective deterrent. The report recommends that the city have a system for gathering information on the characteristics of park dwellers and for tracking its outreach efforts to park dwellers.
The report also examines the litter left in the park at homeless encampments, quantifying it and describing the processes in place to remove it. Since shopping carts were found to facilitate moving personal items into the park, a recommendation of the report is that the San Francisco Park Code should ban shopping carts in Golden Gate Park in order to discourage living in the Park and to reduce litter.