The tent village on the border of SoMa and the Mission stretches for nearly a mile under the Highway 101 overpass. Its inhabitants range from weather-beaten men mumbling to themselves to women who could pass for soccer moms to a teenager who looks like he’s 15. I’ve lived a block away for nearly four years, my roommate has for eight years, and neither of us has ever seen it this bad. There’s been such a population growth in Tent Francisco (a name I just coined) over the past month or two that it’s almost like all the homeless from around The City are purposefully being pushed to this locale.
Because they probably have been.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Coalition on Homelessness, the organization that endeavors to “protect the rights of the poorest people in our society, and to create real solutions to contemporary homelessness.” Considering it’s where homeless people go to pick up the Street Sheet, which is sold around town every week, the folks at the COH have their ear to the ground.
Word on the street is that police and the Department of Public Works have been pushing people toward certain areas — ahem, places out of sight of the Super Bowl 50 media — and they haven’t always been nice while doing it. One story repeated often is that the DPW will come by and say, “We’ll be back here tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. And if you’re still here, we will take your belongings.”
It’s hard to imagine someone being cruel enough to take away the few meager possessions of those who already have nothing. But then again, Supervisor Scott Wiener was just on record earlier this week suggesting our homeless neighbors have their tents taken away.
Yes, these are strange and cruel times in San Francisco. We let developers and corporations write our laws and let politicians pick on the most fragile members of our society. Back when Hizzoner Ed Lee said the “homeless have to leave” for the Super Bowl, I decided it was time to stand up for our houseless neighbors and reached out to COH to see if we can organize a protest.
The point of the protest is this: There will be tens of millions of eyes on San Francisco for the Super Bowl. We need to use this opportunity to show that the people in power would rather hide “our problems” than fix them. Our call to action is, “Hey, Ed Lee. No penalties for poverty!”
Because of the Super Bowl, The City is on the hook for $5 million that could’ve instead been spent on getting 500 people immediately off the street. We are also demanding the use of publicly owned assets, such as the empty Pier 29 or Pier 80 or the land under the freeway at Highway 101 and Cesar Chavez Street, and the creation monitored programs that support secure sleep, hygienic toileting and access to transition and healing services.
Do you care about San Francisco? Do you also think the way our city is treating our homeless neighbors is wrong and unjust? Then come out and join us for this peaceful protest on Feb. 3. We meet at 4:30 p.m. in front of Sinbad’s on The Embarcadero, next to the Ferry Building. Wear red-and-gold 49ers colors and bring signs, banners and cardboard cutouts of houses. Bring tents, too, if you don’t mind them getting confiscated. We will be making our own tent city right next to Super Bowl City. And I’m sorry if you find protests inconvenient. But if everyone waited until it was “convenient” to protest, there’d be no such thing as weekends, we’d still be using segregated drinking fountains and women wouldn’t have the right to vote
Let’s #TackleHomelessness. See you in the streets.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner. To learn more about the protest, visit www.bit.ly/TackleHomelessness.