The number of people who sleep nightly in Golden Gate Park has dropped dramatically in the past five years — from more than 200 to about 50 — but The City must do more to figure out how to get these people out of the park permanently, according to a recent grand jury report.
The City's annual homeless count, released Friday, does not give an accurate depiction of how many people live in the park; the volunteer-led effort does not send counters there.
Golden Gate Park's population fluctuates seasonally, according to the grand jury, but there is a group of people — mostly men in their 40s and 50s, many of whom are military veterans or people with longstanding drug addictions — who have lived in the park for extended lengths of time and know how to escape detection.
Police from nearby Park Police Station and members of the Recreation and Park Department's Park Patrol enter the eastern end of the park at 4 a.m. to conduct sweeps, but they are not conducted with regularity and are canceled if police are not available, the report said. City officials also have ended the practice of sending in sweep teams consisting of social workers and law enforcement. Members of the Engagement Specialist Team — a successor to the Homeless Outreach Teams begun under former Mayor Gavin Newsom — are "on call" should police or Park Patrol request them, the report said.
And for some, any kind of outreach might not matter: One man, according to the report, has made Golden Gate Park his home for 20 years.
When law enforcement encounter park residents, they are offered city services or are given an $187 citation. The citations might not have much of an effect, as one man has 67 outstanding, the report found.