THE CONTINUING STORY OF SUPERVISOR WIENER’S EFFORTS TO KEEP HOMELESS PEOPLE OUT OF PUBLIC SPACES
By Colleen Rivecca
Policy and Advocacy Coordinator
Homeless Youth Alliance
On July 23, 2013, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced an ordinance to amend the San Francisco Park Code to establish uniform park closure hours in all of San Francisco’s 220 parks. The ordinance would close the parks from12:00 midnight until 5:00 am. Exceptions to the law are made for Balboa, Golden Gate, Lincoln, and McClaren parks, where people are allowed to use a vehicle on park roadways or to walk on paved sidewalks adjacent to those roadways for purposes of crossing the park. People violating the law could be found guilty of either a misdemeanor or an infraction, according to the discretion of the District Attorney. An infraction can be punished by a fine of $100 to $500, and a misdemeanor can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months in county jail.
Supervisor Wiener has stated that he believes that uniform park closure hours are necessary in order to combat park vandalism, illegal dumping, and metal theft. Homeless people and the people who work to provide them with services and support are concerned that the ordinance will do little to combat vandalism and theft, but will be very effective at criminalizing homeless people who are in parks because they have no other place to go.
Homeless park dwellers seek refuge in the parks for many different reasons. San Francisco’s most recent homeless count showed that 29% of the City’s homeless population identifies as LGBT. LGBT homeless people often feel unsafe in the City’s shelter system, where they may be targets of ridicule and abuse, and may opt to stay in parks for safety reasons. San Francisco’s shelter system is under-resourced and difficult to navigate even for people who don’t identify as LGBT. There is one shelter bed for every 5.4 homeless people in San Francisco, and the waiting list for families who need shelter is currently six months long.
Receiving tickets for sleeping, camping, or being in parks after closing hours is something that homeless San Francisco park dwellers already contend with on a daily basis. We are concerned that this proposed ordinance will make it even easier for homeless people to receive tickets for being in the park, resulting in fines that they can’t afford to pay and potential jail time for people who are not vandals, are not engaged in illegal dumping, and are not attempting to steal metal from parks, but are simply in the park because they have no other place to be.
We’d like to see San Francisco prioritize public policies that promote real solutions to homelessness like housing that is affordable to San Francisco’s poorest residents, and access to supportive services and living wage employment opportunities for homeless people who are able to work but need stability before they can be successful in the job market. We demand a NO vote on this legislation and seek to build solutions to our city’s collective problems that include the voices of those most impacted by homelessness and poverty.