SF Supervisors Delay Park Closure Vote
Advocates for the poor saw a modest victory this week after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors decided to delay for a week a vote on a proposal that would close city parks at night.
Members of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, fresh off a sleep-in in Dolores Park Monday to protest the planned Tuesday vote, quickly mobilized and set up a Facebook page urging opponents of gay Supervisor Scott Wiener's legislation to call three board members they said were on the fence: Supervisors Katy Tang, London Breed, and Malia Cohen.
"While I am frustrated that Supervisor Wiener chose to delay the vote on his unpopular legislation and criminalize our most vulnerable citizens, this action shows that our efforts to defeat this legislation are working," said Milk club President Tom Temprano.
In a Facebook post, Temprano said he saw the delay as a sign that Wiener lacked the six votes needed to pass the measure.
Wiener explained that the vote was continued because Police Chief Greg Suhr had to leave the October 29 meeting.
"Given the questions and assertions about enforcement that have risen, I thought it was important for the chief to be there to answer questions," Wiener said.
Wiener's proposal would close city parks between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. He maintains the ordinance is needed to curb excessive and multiple incidents of vandalism in the parks. Examples of the vandalism include dumping, destroying park benches, and once, subjecting a public restroom to explosives. Both Wiener and officials from the Recreation and Park Department have said that most of these incidents occur after midnight.
Opponents argue that homeless people have nowhere else to sleep, although overnight camping in parks is already prohibited. Temprano has said that San Francisco's homeless population is disproportionately LGBT identified, and that there has been anti-LGBT violence in city shelters.
In late June, the biennial San Francisco Homeless Point-In-Time Count and Survey was released and, for the first time, included statistics on LGBT people. The report found that out of a total of 7,350 homeless people, more than one in four (29 percent) identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or "other" for a total of 2,132.
On Monday, October 28, approximately 75 homeless activists gathered in Dolores Park at 9 p.m. for an overnight sleep-in, which they hoped would illustrate the need to allow homeless people to continue using the parks overnight.
As people laid out blankets and served coffee and pastries, Temprano addressed the crowd.
"Thank you for coming tonight. We're happy to stand here with homeless San Franciscans," he said. "Scott Wiener says this is about vandalism and dumping. Those things are already illegal. It shouldn't be illegal to be poor and queer. Thirty percent of the homeless are LGBT. Until we have beds for every homeless San Franciscan, our parks will continue to be an option of last resort."
Others spoke of displacing homeless people if the measure passed.
"All of us are outraged when our parks are vandalized," said Lisa Marie Alatorre of the Coalition on Homelessness. "But this proposed legislation will displace our people into the streets."
Lee Hepner, a Milk club board member, advised attendees that they could hang out but not sleep. "I have coordinated with park rangers who have agreed to be lenient tonight," he said. "Let's take advantage of this privilege and be respectful of the neighborhood."
The night proceeded peacefully and without incident. The mood was upbeat as people gathered in groups to discuss the issues at hand, or just to chat for fun.
Attendees were joined by legal observers who were prepared to act as witnesses or advisers if arrests were made. Also present was Brother Paul Joseph and other brothers from the Society of St. Francis, a religious order whose San Francisco monastery is across the street from Dolores Park. Brother Joseph told the crowd that anyone who needed to use the monastery restroom during the night was welcome to do so. The brother, a registered nurse, was also available if medical care was needed.
"The homeless are just like us," said Brother Joseph. "They're just homeless. I spoke to Supervisor Wiener about this and he was very amenable to listening. He and I are going to the park together on November 21."
Wiener told the Bay Area Reporter that he was committed to increasing homeless and LGBT youth services. He provided figures for programs he's allocated funding for, including: $274,000 so that Larkin Street Youth Services can expand the number of rooms it uses at the Perramont Hotel on Market Street by 10; $154,000 for the LGBT Community Center's Youth Space, which provides a variety of services to LGBT youth, including the homeless; and $88,000 for outreach and case management to get homeless LGBT youth into housing.
Wiener also secured $175,000 for drop in and mental health services for LGBT youth in the Castro, he said.
Temprano has set up a Facebook Event page, 1500 Calls in Five Days to Fight Against Closing Our Parks (https://www.facebook.com/events/764970943528642/).