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Poll: Would You Vote to Outlaw Sidewalk Camping?

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San Franciscans get to decide

Under the new law, the city could remove campers as soon as they’re offered housing elsewhere, such as the Navigation Center proposed for Warm Water Cove, above.
Patricia Chang

Camping on the street is technically already illegal in San Francisco, but voters can make it doubly so with Supervisor Mark Farrell’s "Housing Not Tents" ballot measure, which just barely made this week’s deadline to qualify for the November ballot.

Under the proposal, police would have the authority to remove tents once residents have been offered a chance to move into housing, and after 24 hours notice has been given in writing.

Previously, the city cited public health laws when it removed campers, which was a squishier standard that was difficult to enforce.

In a press release, Supervisor Farrell said, "It is not compassionate to allow human beings to live in tents on our streets" and that "anybody with an ounce of common sense knows we should not encourage the spread of tent cities."

Farrell’s district two includes the MarinaRussian HillCow HollowSea Cliff, and the Presidio. Not exactly hotbeds of homeless citizens pitching tents on every block.

SF Citizen

But the long-running embarrassment of campsites under freeways in SOMA and the Mission, the tug-of-war over whether and when to disperse them, the campaign to more aggressively usher homeless San Franciscans into permanent shelters, and simmering voter disgruntlement have made it a pointed issue for any elected official.

Jennifer Friedenbach, Director of the Coalition on Homelessness, told the San Francisco Examiner that the law was "campaign fodder," and Supervisor John Avalos dismissed it as a "political move" at Tuesday’s BOS meeting.

None of the four supervisors who put the proposal on the ballot are actually up for reelection this year, although Scott Wiener is running against board colleague Jane Kim for a state senate seat. While the names of four lawmakers are enough to get it on the ballot, a majority vote on November 8 is necessary to make it stick.

Update: Farrell's office points out that street camping is not technically itself illegal right now. Sidewalk campers may end up violating the city's sit/lie law, but that only applies certain hours of the day. Previously, camps have been dispersed as health code violations, but the proposed law would be an update to the city's police code. The prohibition would apply to single tents and equivalent, makeshift structures.