A sign posted outside one of the Division Street tents after city declared the area a public health hazard last week. (Dan Brekke/KQED)
San Francisco Public Works moved in before dawn Tuesday to remove dozens of tents and their residents from the Division Street corridor that the city declared a health hazard last week.
Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said crews were removing about 30 tents from a stretch of Division Street running from about Eighth Street to 13th Street.
He said dozens more homeless campers were also being evicted from San Bruno Avenue and other streets near Showplace Square. The area has been frequented for years by people living on the street -- and the scene of periodic city clearing and cleanup operations.
Cleanup crews were accompanied by police officers. Nuru said people ordered to move from the Division Street corridor, beneath the Central Freeway, were cooperative.
Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon said some of the conditions uncovered during Tuesday's operation "left no doubt this is a public health hazard."
“We’ve seen rats, mice, lots of feces, urine, rotting garbage," said Gordon, standing near Trainor Street, off 14th between Harrison and Folsom. "Just behind me, hundreds of pounds of garbage are being picked up. Just from this one small street.”
But campers said they're unhappy with city action that puts them on the move without any clear idea of what's next.
"They just cleared us all out," said Beth Stromer, 45, one of those evicted from the tents along Division Street. "[They] said, 'Don't come back'. Put up barricades. I don't know what to do next."
Stromer wept as she said she's waiting to see whether she can get into a shelter.
"I'd just like to get back to my family in Yuba City," she said. "But I messed all that up."
Rebecca Padilla, 34, described the morning as "chaotic" and "stressful" and said she doesn't know where she'll sleep Tuesday night.
“I don’t think too many people care, to tell you the truth," Padilla said. "But they fail to realize we’re no different from anybody else You know, maybe our backgrounds may be a little different, but did anybody ever think about what we’ve been through? What’s happened to us, you know? Some of us don’t have anybody.”
Many campers began moving from the area after the Department of Public Health notice last week. Some have relocated to Pier 80, where the city has created a new shelter. Others have simply shifted to streets in the South of Market and Mission districts.
Ana Held, 29, another tent resident forced to leave Tuesday, said she intended to relocate to Plum Street, off South Van Ness Avenue just a few blocks from Division.
“I don’t want to go to Pier 80 because it’s temporary, for one," she said. "For two, it’s a tarp on the floor. I’ve got a tarp on the floor with my tent, you know what I mean? And I can make it more comfortable than I could at Pier 80, so I’d rather stay in my tent.”
Nuru acknowledged in an early-morning interview from the scene that the homeless campers aren't going far.
"Some people are going to nearby streets," he said. "Other people are just rolling away from the areas that we've told them they cannot be."
Nuru said the city is working to prevent future homeless encampments in the area.
"We're just going to have a few police barricades that will just tell people that these areas are part of the areas that have been declared a public health nuisance and that people cannot come here," Nuru said.