Operation T-BONE: SF police sweep homeless from downtown plazas

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 22 Feb 1999 13:59:38 -0800 (PST)

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"Before Operation T-BONE, volunteers with Food Not Bombs would serve
between 75 to 150 homeless people every night [at UN Plaza]. Now, they
serve only about 50."  [Quoted from article below:]

FWD  San Francisco Chronicle  [Page A1] Monday, February 22, 1999


     Manny Fernandez, Chronicle Staff Writer

       When Supervisor Amos Brown's new plan to rid San Francisco's
downtown plazas of illegal behavior takes effect, there will be very little
illegal behavior to get rid of.

       For the past three weeks, police have been patrolling United Nations
Plaza and the adjacent stretch of Market Street in two- person teams, 17
hours a day. The campaign has led to nearly 200 drug arrests and citations
for drinking in public.

       The increased police presence has had another effect -- forcing
scores of homeless people out of the plaza. Many of the down-and- out who
once frequented the plaza have scattered to nearby neighborhoods, including
alleys in the Tenderloin and freeway overpasses South of Market.

       Some have traveled a shorter distance -- simply moving their
shopping carts and belongings across the street.

       ``This is like prison here, almost,'' said Christina Edquist,
standing behind the cardboard walls of a makeshift home in front of Wells
Fargo Bank at Market and Ninth streets.

       Edquist and her husband used to hang around U.N. Plaza during the
day, but now avoid police by camping one block up Market Street.

       Eddie Lee used to sleep on the wide, concrete slabs surrounding the
plaza's fountain. When police told him to get moving recently, he made his
home across the street instead, panhandling in front of a jewelry store at
Market and Seventh.

       ``I know how to survive on the streets,'' said Lee, a 58-year-old

       Vietnam veteran who wears an artificial leg and walks with the aid
of crutches. ``You got the psychos. You got the police. You have to sleep
with one eye open and one eye closed.''

       Police officials maintain that the stepped-up enforcement of
nuisance laws in U.N. Plaza does not single out the homeless. The operation
began in January, police said, and is separate from the plan advanced by
Brown and approved by the full Board of Supervisors to ban sleeping and
drinking of alcohol in the area.

       The board passed the ban, which officially brings the plaza under
the park code, on February 1. Enforcement of the new legislation begins in
late March.

       In the meantime, however, the Police Department's U.N. Plaza
operation is essentially doing what Brown's plan intended -- clearing the
area of panhandlers, drinkers and drug dealers.

       Police estimated that as many as 300 people once hung around the
plaza during the afternoons. Although some were drifters with no place to
stay, the majority were people ``there for the wrong reasons,'' said police
Captain Dennis Martel.

       Drug dealers who stayed in low- income hotels spent their days
hustling on the lawns in the plaza, officers who patrol the area said. One
young man said he made about $300 a day selling marijuana in the plaza, in
addition to receiving a welfare check.

       A Department of Public Works street cleaner said hypodermic needles,
broken glass, feces and vomit are often found in and around the fountain
area. One sweeper said he recently scooped up six needles in one trip
through the plaza.

       Employees of a Social Security Administration office that used to be
located next to the fountain would often see strange sights outside,
including drug deals and grown men bathing nude in the fountain.

       The agency moved from its 10 U.N. Plaza address last August.
Although an expired lease was the reason, Social Security employees did not
mind the change of scenery.

       ``It was an unpleasant area to be out and about in,'' said John
Hanley, district manager for the Social Security Administration's downtown
San Francisco office.

       The influx peaked late last year, when police patrols of Civic
Center Plaza, which was undergoing renovations timed to the reopening of
City Hall, pushed dozens of panhandlers and others into nearby U.N. Plaza.

       ``Almost overnight, we just had . . . an outdoor drug supermarket,''
said Martel, commanding officer of the Southern police district.

       In January, undercover and uniformed police officers stepped up
enforcement in U.N. Plaza, in an effort called Operation T-BONE.

       The Jackson family drifts around town now that police have focused
on the plaza. One recent afternoon, Berle Jackson sat near the fountain
with his wife.

       Next to Jackson's feet were two open bottles of beer in brown paper
bags. Farther away was his daughter, LaKrista, tucked inside a baby
stroller beneath a mound of pastel blankets.

       For nearly eight months, the entire span of LaKrista's life, the
Jacksons have been homeless. Lately, they have been ``running around in
circles,'' Berle Jackson said, sleeping in cheap hotels and at friends'
apartments. He said they survive on a monthly $323 check he receives for
being a veteran.

       ``I have every intention in this world of getting my family off the
streets,'' he said.

       Jackson and his wife used to spend the afternoons in the plaza. Now
they are spending more time at Fisherman's Wharf and Golden Gate Park.

       ``It's hard because you got to keep ducking the police,'' he said.
``It's not like we're not trying to get anywhere.''

       Martel was not surprised to learn that many of the homeless were
leaving the plaza. ``Displacing'' is a common occurrence after police focus
intense manpower and resources in one area, he said.

       ``I'm not surprised to hear that,'' Martel said. ``But, of course,
if they abided by the law . . . I wouldn't think that would bother them.''

       Nearly 25 percent of those arrested for drug violations in Operation
T-BONE were on parole for previous crimes. ``That to me is an indication
that a lot of very serious felons were hanging out there,'' Martel said.

       For three weeks, the police crackdown has continued with two
uniformed officers walking the plaza, watching out for drug deals, homeless
encampments and assaults. The number of people who now mill around the
plaza is around 100, police said.

       The operation, which stands for Take Back Our Neighborhood
Enforcement, will shift to a scaled- back version of the patrol this week.

       One recent evening, Mike was one of only a handful of homeless who
rested in the plaza. The 45- year-old homeless veteran said he used to
enjoy feeding the seagulls and sleeping on the benches that line the brick
walkway at the center of the plaza.

       These days, however, sleeping is risky.

       ``Last time I tried to lie down and take a nap, they blew their horn
and said, `Get up, you can't sleep here,' '' said Mike, who wanted only his
first name used. He left the plaza after a few minutes.

       Many of the homeless who used to line up for a free bowl of soup at
the plaza have been scared away by the police cars circling the area,
volunteers said.

       Before Operation T-BONE, volunteers with Food Not Bombs would serve
between 75 to 150 homeless people every night. Now, they serve only about

       Ken Hampton is not bothered by the police. Hampton, 40, lay in a cot
that he set up on a concrete slab atop the plaza's fountain. Draped in
several blankets, a frayed thriller paperback across his chest, Hampton
looked as if he was spending an afternoon at the beach.

       ``They just passed by right now,'' Hampton said of the police.
``They looked at me and just shook their heads.''

       Hampton usually sleeps by a fast- food restaurant two blocks up
Market Street. ``They treat you like you done committed a crime by sitting
down,'' he said. ``I don't see what the big crime is.''


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