Occupy SF brings homeless out of the woods

Mike Aldax/The SF ExaminerGolden Gate homecoming: Transient Joshua B. returned to Golden Gate Park after camping out at the Occupy SF encampment in Justin Herman Plaza for a few days.

The transient population in Golden Gate Park has dropped since Occupy SF set up camp at Justin Herman Plaza in October, according to San Francisco police.

A cop who works the beat in Golden Gate Park reported Friday that fewer people have been camping in the park at night, Park Police Station Capt. Denis O’Leary said.

Also, there aren’t as many folks congregating during the day at Hippie Hill and Alvord Lake, which are popular transient hangouts on the park’s east side, he said.

“But there’s been no difference on Haight Street,” O’Leary said.

Recent police enforcement efforts and seasonal changes in the park’s population may have contributed to the decline, O’Leary said. But Occupy SF does appear to be making a difference, he said.

“When I jog there in the morning I do look at Hippie Hill; there are less people there,” O’Leary said.

The police captain’s claim garnered mixed reactions from residents and longtime Golden Gate Park campers. Kevin Bayuk of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council said he lives near the park and hasn’t noticed a difference.

“The population increases in the dry season and decreases in the rainy season,” Bayuk said.

The feelings also are mixed among longtime park campers. On Friday, The San Francisco Examiner interviewed about a dozen regulars of the park’s east side. Some agreed there are fewer people in the park. Others talked of “commuters” who travel back and forth from Occupy SF. Some say many of the Occupy SF protesters came from out of town. Two park frequenters said cops have advised them to move to the Occupy SF camp.

The majority of those interviewed were fearful that an end to the Justin Herman Plaza encampment will mean more competition for space in Golden Gate Park.

Duff Mann, 41, called the Occupy SF encampment a “bunch of drama.” Too much fighting and too many robberies happen there, said Joshua B., who said he spent five days at the Justin Herman Plaza camp before returning to Golden Gate Park.

But not everyone in Golden Gate Park was worried about an influx of campers from Occupy SF.

Bradley Norwood, who once lived in the park for six years straight, said troublemakers acting tough at Occupy SF will think twice about camping in Golden Gate Park. Unlike the well-lit, heavily populated Justin Herman Plaza encampment, the park at night can be a dangerous place.

“They ain’t coming up here,” Norwood said. “They’re scared of the park.”

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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