Local Editorial: Clearing the hard-core homeless from GG Park

| November 12, 2009

With considerable fanfare, The City launched a campaign two years ago to clear out an influx of homeless campers — many of whom were substance abusers — from Golden Gate Park and direct them to social services. Uncontrolled homeless encampments had taken over pockets of the park, and city officials implemented a routine patrolling policy of park rangers, social workers, homeless advocates and police officers.

After two years of offering park squatters assistance, while also handing out citations that can eventually add up to a night in jail, dozens of hard-core transients still stubbornly resist moving away from San Francisco’s signature park.

When the Golden Gate Park effort first started, officials cited 175 to 200 campers a week. But now it’s down to about 25, according to the Mayor’s Office. However, that latest number appears overly optimistic to some who are on the frontlines of the squatter problem every day.

Spearheading the current strategy are Park Patrol teams — two police officers, one park ranger and one homeless outreach coordinator — that scour the area in police Jeeps throughout the early morning hours to search for campers. An Examiner reporter recently accompanied one such team during a sweep in which nine sleeping transients were found in bushes and other hiding places.

Seven of that morning’s transients were well-known to the patrol team. All were given citations ranging from infractions to misdemeanors. But they were also offered food and possibly a bed for the following night. Only two talked to the outreach representative and they only would agree to an assessment of their needs.

It seems evident that the tactics that largely revived Golden Gate Park as a welcoming visitor destination are simply not effective at moving out the final contingent of die-hard park squatters. The City needs to develop new ways to approach those homeless people who remain in the park.

Dealing constructively with homelessness means doing more than just moving the most troublesome transients around to different locations, and it’s unquestionably a difficult problem that has stymied urban leaders everywhere.

This newspaper doesn’t claim to have a detailed alternative plan for eliminating those last Golden Gate Park encampments. But what’s clear is that The City’s approach for the past two years has gone as far as it can, and now only a tough-minded new strategy will succeed. Has anybody ever asked the holdout squatters what it would take to keep them away from Golden Gate Park?

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