Monday, July 27, 2009

Day 21: A Vist Through GGP at Dawn

Early this morning, I joined our Park Patrol officers, members of the San Francisco Police Department and homeless outreach specialists from the Human Services Agency on their regular morning patrol of Golden Gate Park. Every morning, this inter-department team visits well-known camping sites in an effort to enforce Park Code sections which prohibit overnight camping in the park and to connect homeless to shelter and services. This morning we connected with ten illegal campers.

Overnight camping laws are enforced in our parks for a number of reasons, including safety issues, improving park cleanliness, discouraging irresponsible park behavior and reducing the homeless population in our parks by offering help to those in need of services and shelter.

In Golden Gate Park, the number of "regular" homeless campers has gone down significantly since the morning teams began vigorously enforcing Park Code violations two years ago. However, the park's homeless population is seasonal and we are also experiencing a higher percentage of transient campers than we've seen in the past. I'm told there are actually underground websites that inform people on how and where to camp illegally in Golden Gate Park.

I was impressed with our inter-departmental homeless outreach team who handle this difficult and often unrewarding responsibility with professionalism, determination and compassion. The sites we visited in Golden Gate Park this morning were a harsh reminder of how homelessness and irresponsible behavior remain two of the more vexing challenges we face in our parks. There was lots of garbage strewn about, the sites and smells in some campsites were disturbing and there were enough stolen shopping carts, bicycles and other contraband to fill a small warehouse. One person we cited had received over 40 previous citations -- clearly without much impact. However, the outreach team did connect a sight impaired homeless camper with services last week, so a glimmer of hope. While the debate over how best to enforce responsible park behavior continues, RPD will take our responsibility to ensure our parks are safe and clean seriously and diligently each day.