Postcards from SF: Our homeless camp stretching 0.8 mile, both sides of the street from 13th/Otis to 13th/San Bruno. pic.twitter.com/JIMGn7L7Fi— Violet Blue ® (@violetblue) January 22, 2016
Three Department of Public Works employees and two police officers folded up Penny Horton's tarp, pitched overnight at a bus stop, and told her she had to leave. “They’re being polite and friendly as always," Horton told CBS SF.
No, the DPW says they aren't moving people like Horton — the nearly 7,000 experiencing homelessness in San Francisco — because of the Super Bowl. Instead, it's El Niño. Everyone needs to seek shelter, officials insist, but with limited beds available and unpopular lottery systems to get them, the wet weather has driven more homeless people to tents and makeshift structures. For reference, see this image SFist posted last week of a nearly mile-long tent city on Division Street.
Reacting to scenes like that one, Supervisor Scott Wiener expressed concern bordering on outrage. In a letter to city officials first reported on by KQED, he called "tents in our public spaces... a public health and safety hazard for those living in them and for our neighborhoods." In the letter, addressed to the police chief, fire chief, director of public works, director of public health, head of human services, and finally, the mayor’s homeless coordinator, Wiener writes,
[Tents] are neither humane nor acceptable. Their growing prevalence in San Francisco represents our city's failure to provide adequate housing/shelter and assistance for those who want help, as well as a failure to make clear to those who refuse help that tents on our sidewalks and in our public spaces are unacceptable. We need to know what is driving this specific homeless population, and what we can do to promptly transition tent occupants into housing/shelter and to eliminate these tents in a humane way.
Wiener's requests are framed as questions to agency heads. "Assuming the availability of enough shelter beds, what will be done to remove illegal tent encampments from our streets? In other words, does the city intend to remove these tents as part of a transition of the tent occupants to housing or shelter, or will the law continue to be ignored, as it is being ignored today?"
Paul Boden, Executive Director of Western Regional Advocacy Project, says it's Wiener himself who's ignoring the facts. "There is simply nowhere for homeless people to go. They are sheltering themselves as best they can in leaking tents in the midst of a storm, and here Supervisor Wiener, in a low blow to people struggling to survive, calls on the City to enforce a tent ban. He seems to forget that only the most heartless San Franciscan would send humans to shiver in the cold."
Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness also took umbrage at the Supervisor's words. “Mr. Weiner’s letter is in direct contrast to the very spirit of the City of St. Francis. His timing was telling, as was his lack of solutions. Homeless people are suffering enough, and his letter was surprisingly cruel."
As the rains continue, the visibility of homelessness in San Francisco increases. Men, women, and families pitch tents on block after block. The "timing" Friedenbach references, is of course the upcoming Super Bowl and all the spectators' eyes on San Francisco. And as has been discussed before, Mayor Ed Lee has already said that there would be "no room" for homeless people near the Super Bowl 50 Fan Village, once it was operational. Now, Justin Herman Plaza is surrounded by fencing.
“Taking away people’s tents right now in the middle of these storms," Friedenbach adds, "that’s about as mean-spirited as you can get.”