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Mission District Supervisor Calls for S.F. State of Emergency on Homelessness

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Tents pitched Monday night (March 7, 2016) on Florida Street, north of 16th Street, in northeastern corner of Mission District.
Tents pitched on Florida Street, north of 16th Street, in the northeastern corner of the Mission District. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

In the wake of last week's sweep of tent camps on and near Division Street, the man who represents the neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors wants the city to declare a state of emergency to deal with an issue he says has become a crisis.

Supervisor David Campos said he's fielding angry phone calls from constituents and watching homeless people being pushed around the city for years.

"To be honest, I am tired of being sick and tired," Campos said.

Campos said that after San Francisco Public Works moved in last week, people simply moved their tents and tarps to side streets and even onto private driveways.

"This is not just a problem, it's a crisis. And I think we need to treat it as a crisis," he said.

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Tuesday, Campos plans to ask the Board of Supervisors to activate a  provision in state law that's usually reserved for natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

Campos said the move would allow the city to use its own land and facilities for homeless housing. It would also allow the city to waive or loosen some zoning, health and safety requirements to speed up the process.

San Francisco would not be the first city to declare a homeless state of emergency. Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and the state of Hawaii have all taken similar steps recently.

The declarations address the sense of urgency many people feel, said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. But whether the states of emergency can spark lasting change remains an open question.

"I don't think we really know yet what's going to work about them and not work about them, because this is not something we've seen a lot of before," Roman said.

Campos' primary objective is to get the city to build more navigation centers modeled after a facility and program operating in the Mission now.

The existing center has reportedly been successful in getting homeless residents into permanent housing. At a City Hall hearing last week, the mayor's homeless czar, Sam Dodge, told Campos and other supervisors it could take another six months to open the next center.

"We were very close to one location and it fell through," Dodge said.

If Campos' emergency declaration passes, he plans to introduce follow-up legislation requiring the mayor to build six additional navigation centers in the next year.

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