Shaun Osburn, a fourth-generation Bay Area resident, knows what it's like to live on the streets. After experiencing homelessness himself he's become a strong advocate for poor and marginally housed people, even working in social services for a time. So naturally the current Mission resident saw the steady influx of homeless San Franciscans to Division Street, with rows of tents pitched to avoid the rain.
That corridor, which some are calling Tent City, is a phenomenon which many attribute to the temporary downtown Super Bowl City. In Mayor Ed Lee's words to our homeless population last year, “We’ll give you an alternative. We are always going to be supportive. But you are going to have to leave the streets."
Those alternatives have seemingly been either undesirable or unavailable, with just 75 of a possible 1,300 'El Niño Beds' made available at last count. The beds, or rather mats in shelters, were planned around this rainy season (more foul weather is on the way).
Nonetheless, Supervisor Scott Wiener recently appealed to city officials expressing his concern and distaste at the tent encampments. "[What] will be done to remove illegal tent encampments from our streets," he wrote. Homeless advocates appear to have found the note callous, a couched attempt to sweep San Francisco's problems out of view during a busy time for tourism.
Following the letter came reports of tents confiscated by the Department of Public Works. But as The Weekly wrote, those were denied by spokesperson Rachel Gordon. The department's clean up efforts in the area of the encampments have been "routine" and "no tents were taken down."
Nonetheless, citing the rain, the Super Bowl, and the would-be confiscated tents, Shaun Osbourn started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to ensure that enough tents were provided for San Franciscans experiencing homelessness.
"In preparation for the fancy Super Bowl Party City Hall has promised to their corporate sponsors, a large push by Interim Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Scott Wiener has been made to cleanse city streets of any and all signs of wealth inequality here in San Francisco," Osbourn observes, "Poor people make for such terrible B-Roll, you know."
The Bay Area Reporter noted the campaign, which at the time had quickly gained $1,500 in donations of a $4,000 goal. Since then, however, Osbourn has more than doubled down. He writes in his initial post:
Under the marching orders of City Hall, the San Francisco Department of Public Works has begun confiscating the tents of homeless residents right before El Nino hits with another series of storms, leaving our vulnerable neighbors exposed to the elements. It is our hope to crowd fund replacement tents for the individuals who have lost their homes due to the heartless actions of local government. With some 2-4 person tents costing anywhere from $30-$40, it is our hope that we can replace 100 of these confiscated tents before the worst of the storms hit.
Osbourn says he'll be "distributing these tents directly to folks in need with the assistance of friends," and it appears he's already bought some and handed them out. But with a new goal of $10,000 of which more than $8,000 has already been raised, perhaps he'll have to change his plans.
WOW! This entire experience has restored my faith in the people of San Francisco. Seriously, as a native Bay Area resident who is constantly frustrated by the rapid changes, this just made my heart two-sizes bigger!
Since this campaign is still gaining momentum and the need is greater than I had expected, I'm increasing the goal from $4000 to $10k. Now I need to figure out where to buy $10k worth of tents ...
Of course, not everyone will welcome Osbourn's donated tents. KRON4's Stanley Roberts of the popular "People Behaving Badly" segment was threatened on camera by one homeless person in the area of the tent encampments, and the Business Times reports that local shops and stores complain of weakened business. "It really messes with people’s livelihoods," one business owner said. Another was more understanding. “Yes it affects us; yes we’ve had complaints; yes we’ve reached out to the city... But these are also human beings we’re talking about. We hope we can make this about more than sitting around eating and watching football."