Group objects just before sweep of homeless in park 

Organization says S.F. isn’t providing enough shelter for Golden Gate Park dwellers

As The City begins the removal of hundreds of homeless people from Golden Gate Park today, a civil rights group is calling the action "discriminatory and bad public policy."

Since Sept. 18, an outreach team made up employees from a number of city departments — including Police, Human Services, and Recreation and Park — have walked the 1,017-acre public park handing out notices, informing the homeless that they had until today to pack up their belongings and vacate the premises, according to Rose Dennis, spokeswoman for the Recreation and Park Department.

Park code prohibits camping in Golden Gate Park, which is opened from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.

During the sweep, personal belongings found on the parkland "are going to be bagged and held" for 90 days, Dennis said. Offenderswill be given time to gather their things and leave the park, she said. "We are not hopeful to arrest anybody," Dennis said. "We are hopeful everybody will cooperate."

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights sent a letter Thursday to Mayor Gavin Newsom and other department heads, citing concerns about the treatment of the homeless and the lack of rooms at city shelters.

"As you know, despite your administration’s efforts, there remains an enormous gap between the need for shelter and its availability," the letter said. "Youth shelters in the area are consistently full." The committee estimates that as many as 1,400 homeless people live in the park.

But Trent Rhorer, director of The City’s Department of Human Services, said that on any given night The City has 75 to 100 vacant shelter beds, and estimated that only 200 homeless people live in Golden Gate Park.

Rhorer said The City has learned from previous unsuccessful efforts to solve the park’s homeless problem. "Crackdowns or sweeps don’t work. They temporarily fix the problem." This time The City is focused on providing services to the homeless, Rhorer said.

The City has already housed 13 homeless people as a result of the notification process and will soon have 20 more temporary housing apartments available, he said.

Rhorer said The City is conducting "a phased approach," tackling a section of the park at a time since The City could not handle an influx of "150 brand-new [people] to the system."

The letter asks The City to "revise its current policy and be more humane and less counterproductive."

Dennis said she would "vehemently deny" that this is an attack on the homeless. "It would be inhumane to do nothing," she said.

"We will make every effort to provide housing for anyone who needs it if they are interested in going through the process," said David Miree, Mayor Gavin Newsom’sdeputy communications director. "We don’t look at it as if we’re taking things away and shooing them away from San Francisco."

jsabatini@examiner.com

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