For years the homeless have been fixtures in neighborhoods across San Francisco, a jarring contrast to the tremendous wealth generated by the technology boom.
SAN FRANCISCO — An order by the San Francisco authorities to vacate a sidewalk tent camp in a commercial district has rekindled passions over the city’s longstanding homeless problem, which residents say has reached crisis levels.
Inhabitants of the encampment near a Costco and car dealerships defied the city’s order to disperse by 5 p.m. Friday, forcing a dilemma for San Francisco’s municipal government, which has until now sought to use gentle persuasion in its dealing with the large homeless population.
“I kind of want to stay put and fight it out,” said Elizabeth Stromer, 45, a former nurse who lives in a tent not far from a BMW dealership on the edge of the city’s Mission District. She described the standoff as a “personal battle” between the homeless and the administration of Mayor Edwin Lee.
The city targeted 50 tents under a highway overpass that shelter a small fraction of the more than 6,000 homeless people in the city because of what it called the “accumulation of garbage, human feces, hypodermic needles, urine odors” and other unsanitary conditions.
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The encampment “is hereby declared as a public nuisance,” the city’s Department of Public Health said in its order. The majority of tents — about 30 — were still standing after the deadline and many inhabitants vowed to hold their ground.
“What we need is a solution,” said a homeless man who gave his name as Santino and said he had no plans to move. “Pushing the homeless around is going to do nothing.”
City officials and the San Francisco Police have not said what they intend to do with the recalcitrant tent residents. But late Friday, Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for the health department, said she did not anticipate a sweep of the area. Enforcement of the order would be done “on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
On Friday morning, city workers sprayed bleach and power-washed one side of the street as some of the campers packed up tents.
For years the homeless have been fixtures in neighborhoods across San Francisco, a jarring contrast to the tremendous wealth generated by the technology boom. City officials say the problem has become more visible as real-estate development in formerly rundown areas has pushed the homeless to the doorsteps of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods.
Malia Cohen, a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, the city’s legislature, said homelessness had reached a “crisis point.”
“It’s certainly become more aggressive,” she said. “I’ve seen feces thrown, panhandlers yelling. I’ve seen homeless people rejecting food, and saying, ‘No, I only take money.’ ”
At a hearing Thursday, the homeless and homeowners made impassioned pleas to legislators to resolve the issue. A security guard was summoned when a homeless man who identified himself as Hector Torres took to the lectern and screamed that he had been thrown out of a shelter “like a dog.”
Mary Ann Mills, a San Francisco resident who described herself as a retired senior, told the hearing that her neighborhood had become unlivable. “I can’t walk out my door,” she said. “I can’t walk my grandson down the street.”
Residents accused the city government of giving tax breaks to technology companies such as Twitter while not providing enough low-income housing.
The owner of a vintage furniture and clothing shop, James Spinella, said his shop and his home had been broken into recently and he had called the police when homeless people in his neighborhood began fighting with “chains and knives.”
Like many San Franciscans, he faulted the way authorities have handled the growing problem. “The city has allowed this to get so extreme,” Spinella said. “They are harboring criminals; it’s not just a homeless situation anymore.”
Lee’s administration has increased the budget for homeless-related spending by $84 million in the past five years, to $242 million this year. More than half that is spent on housing for homeless families and programs that prevent evictions.
“It seems like a lot of resources, but it’s very limited in terms of the size of the need,” said Sam Dodge, an official in the mayor’s office charged with overseeing the homeless problem.