San Francisco says homeless encampment a health hazard, wants it shut down

People have until the end of Friday to vacate a rambling tent city along a busy San Francisco street that was declared a health hazard by city officials earlier this week.

Sam Dodge, the mayor's point person on homelessness, said Friday that about 40 tents remained, down from a high of 140 this winter. The tents have lined both sides of a street under a freeway overpass for months, drawing complaints from residents and businesses.

San Francisco has long had a problem housing its homeless, but tensions have been exacerbated by a shortage of affordable housing amid a tech-based jobs boom.

Earlier this month, a founder of a technology start-up posted a letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee complaining that he “shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people” on his way to work.

The letter, which went viral, was soundly mocked on social media for its whiny lack of sensitivity, but writer Justin Keller is not alone in demanding the city do more about homelessness.

People who live near the tent city, for example, testified at a City Hall hearing on Thursday that they were afraid to step outside their homes because of aggressive behavior. The tents are along Division Street, a multi-lane thoroughfare that divides two rapidly developing neighborhoods, the South of Market and Mission districts.

The homeless and their advocates say they need more services and homes for the unhoused.

“I'm not going to let somebody run me out of somewhere where I've made my home,” said camper Patrita Tripp as she dished cold beef pasta out of a can earlier this week. “Where am I supposed to go?”

On Friday morning, city workers sprayed bleach and power-washed one side of the street as campers packed up some half-dozen tents. City outreach workers are prodding many to move into a large canopy shelter on Pier 80 that has 150 sleeping mats.

The health department posted notices Tuesday evening, calling the encampments a public nuisance and ordering people to leave within 72 hours. On Thursday, health officials posted a notice for homeless campers to vacate a neighboring area.

It's uncertain what will happen to campers who refuse the order.

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