The streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin District have experienced a 300 per cent increase in the number of homeless tents since the coronavirus outbreak began, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the community and a law school.
Residents, businesses and the University of California Hastings College of Law are suing to demand the city clean up drug needles and human waste which have littered the streets.
The litigation also demands that assistance be provided for individuals living in sidewalk tents, arguing they are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
About 400 tents currently occupy the neighborhood as San Francisco has had 1,943 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which has been blamed for 34 deaths.
David Faigman, chancellor and dean at UC Hastings, which is heading the case in federal court, says the suit was filed because 'our neighborhood has become a pandemic containment zone,' reports Fox News.
'The city has basically cordoned off our area. Tents are blocking the streets. Tents are blocking doorways. There are needles in the streets. There's open-air drug dealing' Faigman says.
The Tenderloin is home to more children, elderly persons and vulnerable populations per capita than any other neighborhood in the city. Faigman adds that those populations are not being protected due to a lack of public COVID-19 testing.
He says residents fear the 'virus is raging in the neighborhood.'
'There's no other neighborhood in San Francisco that would tolerate that, and they would stand up and be counted. Tenderloin needs to stand up and be counted,' Faigman said.
A plan by Mayor London Breed that began Wednesday to address the problem in the 49-block Tenderloin calls for homeless people to stay in 'safe-sleeping' encampments and for enforcing rules requiring sidewalk tents to be at least six feet apart.
The city also closed off some streets and parking areas to provide space for the homeless, including wash stations and restrooms, along with health services and access to food, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
Faigman called the plan 'entirely inadequate.'
'It essentially institutionalizes the status quo. It simply keeps everybody in place. It is a Band-Aid when a bandage is needed,' he said.
'It was thrown together in response because they knew the lawsuit was coming, but it clearly does not provide a real solution.'
Faigman charged that San Francisco was taking a 'hands-off' approach in tackling its homelessness crisis.
He said the city should welcome federal oversight as a 'way to break through political barriers and accomplish what they want to accomplish as well, which is to clear the streets and protect the people of San Francisco'.