“You’re either for the homeless… …or you’re not.” #safesleep

by Kelley Cutler

We went on outreach to the encampments today, as well as to the Embarcadero where there’s been lots of drama over the new ‘SAFE Navigation Center’ being opened there. Took a couple folks out on outreach for their first time and, as usual, it was an eye-opening experience.

The first person we encountered was an older woman who told us about how she’s been trying to get into the Navigation Center for some time now … to no avail. She asked if we could help get her in and I explained that you need to be referred by the City’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) or law enforcement. She explained that she has three spots she rotates to during the day and one of them is located next to where HOT workers park to go to the office. She said she asks them regularly if they can help get her into the Nav Center. She explained that she needs people to call 311 to file a complaint/report and asked us all to call 311 a bunch on her at her three locations. Like others, she calls 311 on herself as if she is a bystander. She knows we have a complaint-driven system and that the more folks bug the City about a person experiencing homelessness, the more likely they are to receive help.

BTW … as of today there are 1,316 people waiting on the single adult shelter waitlist for a temporary shelter bed.

We spoke with a gentleman sitting outside of the market with his little dog. He mentioned the City’s new coordinated entry system and how he’s worried about saying the wrong thing and disqualifying himself from getting help. He’s temporarily paying a small business owner to sleep there in the evenings. Apparently his cute little dog is what helped him land this temporary option. He’s been homeless for many years and is hoping this temporary squat doesn’t blow his chances to get permanent housing.

Another thing he mentioned was that he’s been having a lot of issues with SSI lately. He said others he knows are having issues too. Are others hearing about folks recently having issues with SSI? It’s not that I’m cynical and don’t trust my government to not to screw over folks receiving SSI … oh wait, never mind …

We made it down to the encampments and got an update from folks. Sweeps are happening as usual and folks are having their belongings thrown away. Last week, one of the guys we know had the ashes of his friend who died taken by the City in a Sweep. He said he always kept his friend (or rather, his ashes) with him. His friend’s ashes are irreplaceable.

Spoke with a younger woman who was living in her car, but due to not being able to pay parking tickets she lost her car/home. We receive calls at the Coalition on Homelessness on a regular basis from folks who had their vehicles/homes towed and they are too poor to get it back. That a big loss for folks. Often it’s the last option for folks before having to sleep hard on the street. Since the City has done such a ‘great job’ getting rid of tents, they are now targeting vehicles more … and the folks who live in their vehicles.

We made our way over to the Embarcadero. I noticed that folks in that area often tend to be isolated … alone and unsheltered. That’s concerning. For all the horror stories we’ve been hearing from folks in the Embarcadero things seems really tame. I’m sure they have their moments in this area, but I’m used to the Tenderloin, so this area to me was so … boring.

We noticed a small group with their stuff sitting in a park by the bay. They were very aware of the drama happening in the neighborhood over the Nav Center opening there. They haven’t attended the community meetings yet, but said they’ve noticed an increase in enforcement and harassment. They have also had the media buzzing around a lot … some taking pictures of them without the decency of asking permission first.

The woman in the picture has been doing interviews with media about homelessness in the Embarcadero. She pointed to the Salesforce tower in the background and said Marc Benioff tweeted a comment about being for people experiencing homelessness or being for yourself. She liked that quote and so we made a sign with that quote and took a picture with the Salesforce tower and the parking lot/future site of the SAFE Nav Center in the background. Apparently I’m a good photographer because I caught a picture when she was smiling.

The guys we spoke with, who are unhoused in the Embarcadero, said that they don’t need others to speak for them at these community meetings … they can speak for themselves. Folks experiencing homelessness in this neighborhood haven’t been part of the discussions about the new SAFE Nav Centers, yet.

I asked the newbies on outreach what they thought of their first experience out there. Armando (our new human rights organizer) said he can see why I love outreach so much. He said hearing people’s experiences firsthand is completely different than reading about what’s happening on the street. Both Armando and Anisha (our intern) have a lot to process. I can forget how intense the experience can be for folks.

Some folks think we exaggerate about sweeps and people getting their belongings taken by the City, but when you go out and listen to folks you quickly find … folks don’t have a place they can legally exist and the City is violating their basic human rights.

The STREET SHEET is a San Francisco-based street newspaper published by the Coalition on Homelessness, dedicated to covering issues of homelessness and poverty.

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