By Phil Matier

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — They are becoming as much a part of the San Francisco cityscape as the trolley cars: Homeless camps, right out front for all to see. They apparently have the blessing of city hall, where the new policy appears to be not to clear them out, but rather to clean them up.

“Public works crews are out there every morning- we start at 4:30 cleaning up illegal encampments around the city,” said Rachel Gordon of the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

Caltrans sends out crews as well. A KPIX 5 crew spotted one at the 5th Street onramp to the Bay Bridge.

“We spend about $3 million a year on cleaning up illegal encampments,” Gordon said.

The crews pick up more than a ton of garbage a day, as well as thousands of hypodermic needles.

There was a time when camps like these would have been busted up by police. These days they are given notice that the cleanup crew is coming.

“People go back there and open up their encampments again,” Gordon said. “Sometimes we are cleaning the same camp up several times a day.”

Mo Mo, who has lived at an encampment for the past couple of months, said crews haven’t tried to get him to move. “Even the police is nice to us,” he said.

Mayor Ed Lee’s latest move is a new 75 bed center specifically for the street campers, part of the $167 million a year the city already spends on homeless programs.

When asked if the city is making it easier for people to sleep on the streets, the mayor said, “The cleanup crews are there not so much for the comfort of the sleepers on the streets – its really for the public – they need to see their streets usable for themselves and for everybody else we are inviting to the city.”

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