SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — Pandemic Circles — outlined areas for social distancing — have cropped up in at least two popular gathering spots in San Francisco — Mission Dolores Park and the Civic Center.
About 80 tents are now neatly spaced out on a wide street near San Francisco City Hall as part of a “safe sleeping village” opened last week. The area between the city’s central library and its Asian Art Museum is fenced off to outsiders, monitored around the clock and provides meals, showers, clean water and trash pickup.
In announcing the encampment, and a second one to open in the famed Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, San Francisco’s mayor acknowledged that she didn’t want to approve tents, but having unregulated tents mushroom on sidewalks was neither safe nor fair.
“So while in normal times I would say that we should focus on bringing people inside and not sanctioning tent encampments, we frankly do not have many other options right now,” she said in a tweet last week.
Nicholas Woodward, 37, is camping at the safe sleeping site, but he said he preferred sleeping in his tent before the city stepped in; he finds the fencing belittling and the rules too controlling. His friend, Nathan Rice, 32, said he’d much rather have a hotel room than a tent on a sidewalk, even if the city is providing clean water and food.
“I hear it on the news, hear it from people here that they’re going to be getting us hotel rooms,” he said. “That’s what we want, you know, to be safe inside.”
San Francisco has moved 1,300 homeless people into hotel rooms and RVs as part of a statewide program to shelter vulnerable people but the mayor has been criticized for moving too slowly. She has said she is not inclined to move all the city’s estimated 8,000 homeless into hotels, despite complaints from advocates who say overcrowded tents are a public health disaster.
San Francisco is just the latest city to authorize encampments as shelters across the country move to thin bed counts so homeless people, who are particularly susceptible to the virus due to poor health, have more room to keep apart.
The city was also using the same strategy in Mission Dolores Park — a popular outdoor spot. Crews have painted huge white circles on the grass in the park. The idea is to help groups of park visitors who are not part of the same household remain six feet apart.
After the circles were painted, park visitors were seen mostly adhering to the new guidelines.
Earlier this month, Mayor London Breed threatened to shut down Dolores Park after crowds gathered and failed to maintain social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is the last thing I want to do. We know that people need fresh air. They want to be out, but if we continue to see that behavior become problematic at Dolores Park, it will no longer be available,” Breed said at a news conference on May 4th.
Social distancing circles are also being used at a park in New York City.
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