After fatal stabbing, San Francisco allows shelters to bar violent homeless people 

click to enlarge Lines of homeless people seeking shelter have seen increasing incidents of violence, shelter operators say. - CINDY CHEW/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Cindy Chew/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Lines of homeless people seeking shelter have seen increasing incidents of violence, shelter operators say.

In response to a fatal stabbing, San Francisco has tightened admission rules for homeless shelters to bar access to people who are acting violently or making such threats outside a facility.

Until recently, shelters could not deny homeless people beds because of bad behavior outside of a facility. But that changed amid calls to protect shelter workers and peaceful homeless people seeking refuge. Late last month, the Human Services Commission approved a rule change giving shelter staff the power to “issue an immediate denial of service for threats of violence or acts of violence committed by a client in the process of accessing shelter services outside the shelter.”

In September, the operators of Multi-Service Center South at 525 Fifth Street said violence outside that shelter was rising and likely to move inside since they couldn’t bar entry to violent shelter-seekers, according to city documents. The shelter was the location of a fatal stabbing last February.

Bevan Dufty, Mayor Ed Lee’s director of homelessness, said the policy change was needed to set proper standards of behavior and gain acceptance from nearby residents. “The behavior around the shelter has a lot to do with how a facility is accepted in the community,” Dufty said.

Jennifer Friedenbach, head of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, said she supported the ban on people acting violently, but objected to restricting access based upon more subjective “threats of violence.”  

What would alleviate tensions, Friedenbach said, is eliminating the long lines that people must wait in to secure a bed for the night, which she said puts people in “bad moods.”

The shelter reservation process can begin with waiting in line as early as 3 a.m. until 7 a.m., and then waiting in line again later in the day to enter the shelter, said Amanda Kahn Fried, deputy director for policy with the mayor’s office of homelessness.

Fried said plans are under way starting this March to begin phasing in a new lottery-based reservation system that ultimately would make reservation lines obsolete. People who enter the lottery could obtain results by calling The City’s 311 information number. A prior initiative is equipping the homeless with cellphones.

That will help with the morning lines, but there is no relief in sight for the lines to enter the shelters.

The new rule change is part of the shelter system’s Shelter Grievance Policy, which sets the ground rules for denials of service by shelter staff.

About 200 homeless people each month are already denied access to shelters. Denials of service can last anywhere from days to a year, with a required annual review.

And under The City’s due process system for fighting such service denials, each month there are upward of 70 hearings fighting the denials and up to 13 requests for arbitration. The hearings are conducted by the shelter providers and an arbitration meeting is staffed by a volunteer from the Bar Association.

Reasons for denials of service in the month of July, for example, included such things as drugs, threats and acts of violence toward staff, possession of a firearm, theft and curfew violations.

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