A Public Works employee power washes blood stains from the sidewalk following a double homicide near 16th Street and South Van Ness Avenue on Sunday, December 18, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Double homicide at homeless camp highlights vulnerability of street life

Loose bouquets of dried but still-dark blood remained on the sidewalk Monday morning feet from what remained of the Mission District homeless encampment where two people were shot to death the night before.

The killing, according to the sparsely-detailed police accounts, happened just after 8 p.m. Sunday and left Eddie Tate, 51, and an unidentified woman dead.

SEE RELATED: Two killed in Mission District shooting Sunday night

“It does not appear to be random,” said San Francisco police spokesperson Officer Giselle Talkoff in her brief statement beyond usual details: time, place, victim count and killing weapon.

But two people who live steps from the slaughter — and who saw the female victim stumble and bleed out after she’d been shot — had a far more detailed account of the crime.

SEE RELATED: Woman fatally shot at homeless camp in Mission District ID’d

The man, know on the street as “Tennessee Eddie,” was killed inside his rolling shelter, which has since been taken away from the crime scene to be searched by the San Francisco Police Department’s homicide unit. The woman died on the sidewalk a half-block from the corner of South Van Ness Avenue and 16th street.

“She was shot in the leg,” said Sterling Gerard, who lives in a tent next door, so to speak. “We didn’t hear the gunshots.”

The killings — San Francisco’s 56th and 57th homicides this year — were two in a relatively small handful that involve homeless people, but they shed light on the fact that being poor and living on the streets often means you are more likely to die a premature death.

Such killings, however rare, also raise fears that politicians may use such incidents to clear homeless camps instead of helping those who are most often the victims of crimes instead of the perpetrators. While no one has told the San Francisco Examiner the incident will be used as a pretext to clear away homeless encampments, the fear of such a move remains.

“Any time stuff happens, and you have politicians talking about how unsafe encampments are, yet they rarely offer actual solutions… they call for criminalization and putting people in jail for being poor,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

She cited the case of Luis Gongora, a homeless man shot and killed by police earlier this year just blocks away from Sunday’s violence as an example of how officials often use such incidents as a pretext for clearing out homeless encampments.

“They use anything as an excuse,” said 51-year-old David Choy, who lives feet from where Sunday’s killing happened. “So this is not going to affect anything.”

The scene

On Monday morning, as a team of Public Works employees power-washed the blood from the sidewalk, 47-year-old Gerard and another man, both of whom saw one of the victims die, busied themselves packing up their belongings for the expected crackdown.

“They were both shot,” said Gerard as he went about packing up his belongings.

Gerard, well over six feet tall and clad in a plaid button up shirt and a flat brimmed ball cap, said he’d been across the street when the shooting happened but did not hear the gunshots.

“I guess he was killed inside of his box,” said Gerard, adding that he knew and lived near Tennessee Eddy. Gerard also saw the female victim die in front of him as she ran and fell down and then “bled out.”

Choy, a fit man with a hood over his head to keep out the cold who lives in a single tent beside Gerard, said he woke to hysteria as the female victim fell and died feet from his tent.

“By the time I popped out of my tent, she was bleeding out over there,” he said, pointing to a spot of the sidewalk.

Homeless as victims

“There’s a lot of fear of homeless people that is unfounded,” said Friedenbach. “The reality is they are more likely to become victims of violence, and this is a reminder.”

Choy echoed Friedenbach in regards to how unsafe it can be to live on the streets.

“Homelessness isn’t a pretty picture,” said Choy. “It’s pretty much the Wild West.”

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