At Tenderloin's only safe sleeping site, disparities with other neighborhoods persist

At Tenderloin's only safe sleeping site, disparities with other neighborhoods persist
Although the city painted 10 "sites" at 180 Jones St., more than 20 people are residing there. | Photos: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline
By Carrie Sisto - Published on June 12, 2020.

Today, the city of San Francisco announced that it would get 70% of the Tenderloin's unhoused residents off the streets, as part of a lawsuit settlement with UC Hastings and other community members. 

Over the next eight days, 30% of the population that's considered "high risk" — elderly, or with underlying health conditions — will be placed in hotel rooms. The rest will be funneled into "safe sleeping sites," the sanctioned tent villages that are quickly being constructed on parking lots across the city.

Based on the Tenderloin's current safe sleeping site, it's not clear how much of an improvement they can expect.

While the Tenderloin has the largest concentration of unhoused residents in the city, it has only one safe sleeping site — a city-owned parking lot at 180 Jones St., which will eventually become an affordable housing complex

But compared to the sites at the Fulton Street Mall in Civic Center, 730 Stanyan St. in the Haight or Everett Middle School in the Castro, conditions are significantly worse. 

Intended for 10 socially distanced tents, the site now has more than 20, making a six-foot remove impossible. The other sites have food, restrooms, water and social services; 180 Jones only got its first porta-potty and hand-washing station two weeks in, and residents have to share it with anyone else who lives on the surrounding streets. 

Prior to the safe sleeping site, the city paid private security firm Treeline about $6,000/week to guard the empty lot. According to Peachy Mathias, a representative of the Emergency Operations Center's Joint Information Center, Treeline has continued to guard it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

But people camping at the site say they haven't seen much in the way of actual security. 

“There’s really not much supervision,” said Billy, who sleeps in a tent near the fence at 180 Jones. People come in and out at all hours, and the area is stressful and loud. He is sleep-deprived from trying to stay aware of his surroundings and remain safe.

“This is the best time to sleep,” he said at 11 a.m. on a warm, sunny morning — because there are people awake and around to watch over his things.

A Treeline Security SUV parked across the street from 180 Jones on June 11.

Phillip, another resident of the site, lived on Market Street between Sixth and Seventh streets for eight years before he was evicted. He says he has performed sex work for money, drugs and the occasional place to sleep off the streets. 

As we spoke to him this week, someone threw glass at him and made threats; no security personnel intervened. He told us he doesn't feel like it’s safe to leave his tent, because people might take his things. 

The site at 180 Jones “is not a basis to build a foundation for a new life,” Phillip said. “You can’t stay here and find a job, or start to rebuild your life.” 

Phillip received his tent as a gift from a neighbor, who got it from the Coalition on Homelessness (COH). Outreach coordinator Chelsea Crumpler said the nonprofit provides tents through a contract with a wholesale seller, financed by its own fundraising.

When an unhoused person in the Tenderloin needs a tent, the city’s Healthy Streets Operations Center (HSOC) tells them to ask the COH, Crumpler said. By comparison, residents of the other safe sleeping sites get them directly from the city. She's not sure if the COH will be refunded for the tents it's given to the people sleeping at the 180 Jones site.

On our visit to the site, Crumpler said she was surprised to see a trio of workers conducting housing eligibility assessments — an effort that was reported by Mission Local. It's possible the sudden shift may have been related to the then-unannounced lawsuit settlement.

Though he's been unhoused for much of his decade in the city, site resident Adrian said he didn't meet the requirements to qualify for housing — “because I haven’t been to jail enough.”

Adrian moved to San Francisco from Sacramento about 10 years ago. He works as a chef, but hasn't had any income of late  — and he doesn't see how he could get any, given the unemployment crisis and the stresses of living at the site.

“I can’t go to work like this after sleeping, or trying to sleep, out here," he said.

Adrian said he and others were invited to move onto the 180 Jones lot by the Homeless Outreach Team, which approached them as they camped outside its perimeter.

He and Billy say they were told they could stay at the site for 35-40 days, and that it would have food, showers, bathrooms, and other services. 

Instead, it has only the shared port-a-potty and hand-washing station, installed nearly two weeks after the site first opened. “It’s filthy in there,” Adrian said.

Rather than use the port-a-potty, Adrian usually walks to the trailers parked at city-run Pit Stop locations, such as 101 Hyde St. and Eddy and Jones streets. They're staffed by attendants, and offer showers. But he can't leave unless someone else is looking out for his belongings; security won't protect them.

When we visited two days ago, the port-a-potty was not being monitored. However, a worker from Public Works was on site yesterday.

A Public Works employee stationed outside 180 Jones on June 11.

Not everything about the safe sleeping site is bad. Adrian says that the space is nicer than the corner he was sleeping on before, where rats would run against the side of his tent and garbage was strewn all over the sidewalk. 

And some of the residents do make it into indoor housing. When Adrian returned from his morning errands, his friend, who declined to give her name, went to be assessed for housing. There, she learned that she has been on the list for a hotel room for nearly a week.

“I didn’t have the paperwork, and the places you need to go to get it are closed, so I didn’t bother,” she said.

No one had come looking for her — even though she had been officially registered by the city as having a space at the 180 Jones site.