Mayor Lee Blasts Talk of Homeless 'Crisis,' Asks Critics to Aid City Efforts

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On Tuesday morning, David Campos, who represents the Mission District on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, issued a widely publicized call for a state of emergency to help the city deal with homelessness.

Campos used the word "crisis" to describe the situation, which in recent month has been characterized by growing tent encampments in the Mission, South of Market and other neighborhoods.

That word -- "crisis" -- apparently hit a nerve with Mayor Ed Lee, who was due to make his monthly "question time" appearance at the beginning of Tuesday's Board of Supes meeting. Without naming names, he upbraided whoever it was had used the word "crisis" for spouting rhetoric without providing solutions.

The mayor then noted the manifold actions of his own administration to address homelessness.


One of the accomplishments he pointed to was "helping hundreds of homeless people out of a public health emergency on Division Street and into shelter without having to make a single arrest." (Ours is not to quibble, but as the mayor must know, "shelter" for many of those hundreds consists of tents they've moved to streets near Division.)

In answer to Campos' principal criticism -- that the city is moving too slowly to open new "navigation centers" to provide services and housing -- Lee said progress is being made on two more centers.

The mayor's remarks, which also seem to suggest that the main difference between him and his critics is their stance over the use of heroin and methamphetamine in city-run shelters, begin at the 2-minute mark of the video above. The full transcript is below.

Good afternoon, supervisors and also to the members of the public that are here. I didn't receive any questions this month, but I'm going to take the opportunity to address our city's response to homelessness.

I know that early today there was a media event calling homelessness a quote "crisis." That event did not offer any solutions. No new philanthropic partnerships. No new sites for navigation centers and no path forward. But it did offer rhetoric.

In my years of public service, supervisors, I've never governed in search of headlines. I do believe in real results, and I know that those who are homeless also count on that.

Back in December 3 of last year, I too, said homelessness had reached a crisis point, but my response included substance.

Substance like 522 new units of permanent supportive housing in the last seven months. Expanding the national shelter model my administration created, the navigation center. Ending chronic homelessness for veterans. A new 180-bed shelter at Pier 80. El Niño shelters to cover for 700 people, thanks to the collaboration and cooperation of our Interfaith Council. Helping hundreds of homeless people out of a public health emergency on Division Street and into shelter without having to make a single arrest. Twenty million dollars for a new bond funding for homeless shelters. Creating a new coordinated homeless department. A billion-dollar funding commitment with a goal of subsidizing 8,000 homeless people by 2020.

I've held several meetings with HUD Secretary Julian Castro and President Obama's homelessness director. And last month, I led a West Coast mayors funding effort to get more resources to solve homelessness.

So much we agree on.

But I believe we have a vigorous disagreement over allowing people to inject heroin and meth to literally destroy their bodies and their minds in a city-funded shelter as some have proposed. We should instead focus on expanding successful residential drug treatment facilities.

Look, we need to build more navigation centers, and I share the frustration of those are critical of how long our efforts are taking to bear fruit. But anger does not help -- cooperation does.

So, to those who are actually interested in cooperating, genuinely willing to work together, we have a great opportunity. In the six months since I've announced plans to double our navigation centers, I have received very cooperative responses from about four supervisors. You know who you are, and I want to thank you. You have demonstrated real leadership for the people in your district and for the city's homeless population.

My administration has identified more than a dozen potential navigation center sites spread around the city and working with the interfaith community and city departments with surplus land.

And today I'm announcing a new dedicated project manager, a partnership between our HOPE office and Public Works department with the sole focus of getting new navigation centers built as quickly as possible. We have already begun community meetings and what we hope will be our next to new navigation center sites -- one near Pier 80 and one in the South of Market area.

So supervisors, if you want to really help solve this, work with me, work with Public Works, work with the Human Services Agency, and certainly with our Public Health Department and at least four of your colleagues who have already begun that work with me. Work with us to get these sites community buy-in, work with us to make this happen.

This, supervisors, is a true test of our resolve, and I hope you stand with us in the months ahead as we build these centers, as we staff them up and as we give real help to our homeless people in need as they deserve. Thank you.