Last Thursday morning, San Francisco police shot and killed 45-year-old Luis Gongora. Witness reports contradicted claims that Gongora, a homeless man, charged at police with a knife, and video obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle shows the police shooting and killing Gongora within 30 seconds of arriving on the scene.
As Julia Carrie Wong illuminates in this great piece in The Guardian, police brutality and homelessness are two of the most pressing issues facing the city of San Francisco today. Gongora's death has already led to a conversation about what ought to be done to prevent these killings from happening again.
Late Friday, the Chronicle reported that Ed Lee, the mayor of San Francisco, supported a citywide "crackdown" on homeless camps:
In the wake of the fatal police shooting of a homeless man on Shotwell Street in the Mission District, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is declaring all homeless tent encampments to be safety hazards and has ordered his department heads to draw up plans for a systematic citywide takedown policy.
“Once the various investigations have finished collecting evidence and completed their interviews of witnesses, I will be ordering the Shotwell camp to be taken down and for it not to come back,” Lee told us.
On Saturday, city supervisor Scott Wiener (who just so happens to be running for State Senate) wrote on Facebook that he supported the Mayor's plans:
"What kind of atmosphere is the city allowing when people are arming themselves in these encampments?" Wiener wrote. "I support the Mayor's citywide directive to transition people living in tent encampments into shelter and to remove the tents…Tents aren't housing."
Moving people from the streets into shelters is a good and noble idea, except neither Wiener and Lee acknowledge that in the interim, there's no available shelter for the homeless.
As of late February, 650 people were on the waitlist for 90-day adult emergency shelter. According to Scott Wiener himself, there's 700 people living in homeless encampments. And there's thousands of homeless beyond those who aren't living in encampments or on a waitlist.
"There aren't enough shelter beds for everyone," Jennifer Friedenbach, the director of the Coalition for Homelessness, told me. "Just removing an encampment doesn’t remove people from the streets."
The shelter problem is vast, and not this simply solved, which Lee acknowledges:
Still, the plan appears to be far from complete. The 180-bed shelter at Pier 80, for example, has only 20 empty beds. An additional 93 shelter beds are expected to come online in the next six to eight weeks.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Lee said.
Hundreds of homeless people in San Francisco are looking for permanent shelter. It's a problem that's going to take time and effort and plenty of money to solve. If the "crackdown" Wiener and Lee propose involves removing people from their tents and giving them no alternative, that isn't going to accomplish anything but leaving potentially thousands of people with no place to live at all.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.