SAN FRANCISCO—On Friday, May 15, the vacant lot of a former McDonald’s restaurant on the corner of Stanyan and Haight Streets was selected to become the site of San Francisco’s second government-sanctioned tent camp for the homeless.

Executive Director of the Department of Emergency Management Mary Ellen Carroll said that the site, which is owned by the city and had been intended for affordable housing construction, will supply enough space for 40 tents and is near electrical services. It is planned to open within the next two weeks.

The decision is a part of a government plan to launch five proposed “Safe Sleeping Sites” throughout San Francisco, intended to keep those without housing protected amid the coronavirus pandemic. Each site will let homeless persons legally set up sleeping tents and access services like showers and food, while also practicing social distancing.

The city plans to launch five safe sleeping sites around San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Lauren Widasky.

Mayor London Breed approved the first of these Safe Sleeping Sites last Wednesday, May 6. The site, which already had tents stationed illegally and opened the next day, is located in Civic Center on Fulton Street, between the Main Library and the Asian Art Museum.

Breed tweeted that conventional means of helping homeless populations, like shelter placements and the Homeward Bound program, “have been severely limited, tying our hands.”

According to Breed, the necessity of social distancing has drastically reduced the number of people that can be safely housed in one shelter.

The Homeward Bound program has been impeded. The initiative aims to reunite homeless people with relatives who are willing to take them in. However, the risk of infection has deterred many from opening their homes. From January to April, 48 of 50 participating households no longer used The Homeward Bound program.

As a response to these strains, Breed detailed in an April 25 letter that the city has secured 1,536 hotel rooms and 120 trailers for unhoused people.

Breed admitted that sanctioning public tent encampments would not be a go-to strategy to combat homelessness “in normal times.” However, the current public health crisis combined with the pre-existing housing shortage crisis has left the city without many other options according to Breed.