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SF’s first sanctioned tent city provides safe—albeit temporary—shelter during pandemic

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With more to come

Tents in the middle of white painted square markets on the street.
Safe Sleeping Village in Civic Center.
Photo by Brock Keeling

An estimated 70 tents popped up in Civic Center last week, a city-sanctioned encampment aimed at housing the shelterless population while keeping them safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Located on Fulton Street between Hyde and Larkin, flanked by the Main Library and Asian Art Museum buildings, the socially-distanced encampment, christened Safe Sleeping Village, is a response to the increase in unsanctioned tents that have appeared since coronavirus-related shelter-in-place orders went into effect.

According to a city count, tents on sidewalks and other public areas rose 71 percent citywide since January. The Tenderloin alone saw a whopping 285 percent increase in pitched tents.

“[W]hile in normal times I would say that we should focus on bringing people inside and not sanctioning tent encampments, we frankly do not have many other options right now,” said Mayor London Breed. “Having places with resources serving people in the neighborhood is better than unsanctioned encampments.”

Safe Sleeping Village tents are spaced six feet apart, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and sectioned off by painted square markers. The encampment is closed off on its street sides by chainlink fences covered with green tarp for privacy. Twenty-four-hour security is on hand, as well as seven portable toilets and two hand-washing stations. The Department of Public Works is responsible to maintaining the site.

Urban Alchemy, a nonprofit services provider, is offering heath services and nutrition, according to 48 Hills.

“The Safe Sleeping site can be a depressing and horrifying foreground to the backdrop of City Hall, showcasing the horrors of poverty and hopelessness during the pandemic,” says a letter on Urban Alchemy’s site, who are calling for local artists to create large pieces, on canvas, “that display messages of hope and beauty, that will be displayed on the privacy fence, within the perimeter of the Village.”

The nonprofit is also asking for denizens “to send love and healing energy to the Village that will radiate throughout our city.”

Additional tent villages are in the works, including one at the former McDonald’s site at Haight and Stanyan. The Upper Haight site will house anywhere from 40 to 60 shelterless District 5 residents.

Everett Middle School in the Castro and the sidewalk area around Boeddeker Park in the Tenderloin are also other spots under consideration for future Safe Sleeping Villages.

The encampments, however, are temporary as tents are not a longterm solution to solving the homeless crisis, pandemic or none.

“We are happy that the city is finally open to having some organized spaces,” Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, tells the San Francisco Examiner, but “not as a permanent thing. We do not believe it is adequate housing. We believe everyone should have a safe and decent place to call home, but we do think it’s a creative alternative measure.”

The city still has vacant hotel rooms for our homeless populace that, two months after shelter-in-place orders went into effect, still need filling. San Francisco has moved a little over 1,000 people into the reported 8,000 rooms at its disposal.