[Hpn] S.F. board pushes to protect homeless' stuff

coh coh@sfo.com
Thu, 05 Jul 2001 19:02:37 -0700

S.F. board pushes to protect homeless' stuff
24-hour notice urged before confiscating

Ilene Lelchuk, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 4, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle



San Francisco -- San Francisco's Board of Supervisors may give the homeless
a day's notice before the city removes their belongings from public property
despite objections from police and park officials.

Board President Tom Ammiano yesterday pushed legislation through a board
committee that would protect property -- from shopping carts to clothes
toted on the streets by homeless people.

Ammiano's plan, drafted with the Coalition on Homelessness advocacy group,
goes to the full board for a vote on Monday.

Like nearly every other proposal related to the homeless in the city,
Ammiano's policy is a lightning rod for controversy.

Police and park officials said the legislation would turn parts of San
Francisco into dumping grounds. Officials with the Department of Public
Works doubt they have the staff to give the homeless 24-hour notice and
follow through before property is collected. And the Mayor's Office on
Homelessness said the city should instead focus on expanding its free
homeless storage facility.

But homeless advocates argued that the city routinely confiscates people's
warm clothes, family photos, medication and identification.

"As a result, people on the street experience increased health problems,
difficulty interviewing for a job and housing, and are forced to live
outside with little protection from the elements," said Mara Raider with the
Coalition on Homelessness.

Crews from the Department of Public Works and Recreation and Park currently
collect abandoned property, tag it and store it for up to 90 days.

"People usually don't come get it," said Recreation and Park Department
spokeswoman Becky Ballinger.

But the Coalition on Homelessness has won a handful of small claims cases on
behalf of homeless clients who lost their personal belongings forever in a
public works sweep. In one recent case, the homeless person won $1,000.

Parks Director Elizabeth Goldstein asked the board committee to at least
consider shortening the 24-hour notice in the parks, which close at sunset

Goldstein said her staff removed nearly 15,000 shopping carts from Golden
Gate, Buena Vista and Park Presidio parks in the past year. And public works
officials reported collecting 900 carts a week from city streets.

The proposed legislation includes special protections for shopping carts,
although it cannot override a state law that considers them stolen property.

The part of Ammiano's plan that met no resistance was his call for more free
storage locations around the city.

About 300 people use the city's only storage facility at 150 Otis St., which
the Mayor's Office on Homelessness runs and hopes to expand, said George
Smith, who heads the mayor's homelessness office. People can leave their
belongings there as long as they show up every 30 days to check in.

Smith said he is working with public works and parks officials to create a
centralized free storage system where people can voluntarily leave their
belongings or locate their stuff if the city collects it off the streets.

Supervisor Matt Gonzalez endorsed Ammiano's proposal yesterday, while
Supervisor Tony Hall, the board's more conservative member, voted against it
because of its potential cost to the city.

Before Monday's vote by the full board, Ammiano, homeless advocates, police
and city officials will try to reach agreement on the proposal.

"This is one of those unfortunate situations where the true answer lies with
more affordable housing, more voluntary drug and mental health treatment
spots and even more free storage facilities for homeless," Ammiano said.
"Until that time, however, we must respect everyone's property rights,
including homeless individuals who are forced to live on the streets."

E-mail Ilene Lelchuk at ilelchuk@sfchronicle.com.

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A - 15

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