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San Francisco Homeless Czar: "We Must Do Better"

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Jeff Kositsky, Director of the San Francisco Department of Homelessness has heard the city's frustration and is prepared to do something about it. "7,000 people on our streets, we can and will and must do better," he explained, referring to a homeless situation some are calling a crisis. "Until we make some progress, people can, and will, and should be dissatisfied."

Kositsky is the kind of man who tears up when he hears stories of people suffering on our streets. "It's the guy on the street who is suffering from a mental health or a physical issue, or the senior citizen, or the woman in the wheelchair," said Kositsky. "People who are truly desperate."

While he has a big heart, Kositsky is also serious about the business of reforming the city's approach to a long intractable problem. "We have to combine that compassion, with these coordinated efforts, as well as common sense." That starts with something as simple as rethinking the meaning of the word, "homeless."

"You know, people tend to use the word, homeless, and they lump a lot of things into that," said Kositsky. "What we need to do is also understand that different populations of homeless people have different needs."

Kositsky's first goal will be bringing order to the city's labyrinth of social services, organizing them all under one governing body that will be able to better keep track of those who are, or who may become, homeless.

That will mean canvassing the city to see who wants help, and who wants a bus ticket home, but it is a necessary first step says Kositsky. "We are going to go out and offer people assistance, we're going to offer people housing," he said. "We're going to offer to reconnect people to other communities if they want or need to leave San Francisco."

As for the most discussed flashpoint in the city's struggle with homelessness, Kositsky insists that the wave of tent encampments needs to be rolled back. "The level of crime, sexual assaults, unhealthy conditions happening in those encampments is horrifying, there really are these post-apocalyptic places that I've been to that aren't good for anybody - not the people who are there, or the people living nearby. We know where the encampments are, we have a list, we know the size, we know how dangerous they may or may not be - it's not going to be hard to work that list till we get to the end."

While the director is ready to take on the camps, he's being careful to avoid another problematic mess - the city's often bitter political fight over the issue. "This new department, our job is not to solve affordability in the city, to solve mental health in the city, these are problems that are important that we need to work on but we're going to stay in our lane," said Kositsky. "Our job is to get people who are on the streets, off the streets."

Kositsky knows this growing homeless problem has lasted for decades, he knows people have grown cynical and he knows it won't be easy, He's also fond of socks and ties covered with flying pigs. "I think this is an amazing opportunity for the city," he said. "I'm excited to have been selected for this job, and I feel like we're going to make some real change."

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