Millions of football fans are expected to descend on San Francisco to watch the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in nearby Santa Clara on Sunday. But ahead of their arrival, San Francisco is shuffling its homeless population elsewhere.
The city has said that it relocated 24 people from six blocks along the waterfront, where the weeklong “Super Bowl City” will be set up, giving them slots at the Navigation Center, a homeless shelter that offers meals and helps people find permanent housing without imposing a curfew. Yet the shelter is in such high demand that it has a waiting list 150 people long, all of whom were skipped over to relocate those who were moved to make way for Super Bowl visitors. “From the perspective of a homeless person, that’s unfair,” Laura Guzman, director of Navigation Center, told the Wall Street Journal.
The city claims that it hasn’t arrested or cited any homeless people as streets are cleared for tourists, nor relocated anyone outside of that six-block area. Mayor Ed Lee (D) told ABC News 7, “No, I don’t think we’re hiding anybody. This is a city of a lot of tolerance, but we do want to get people off the streets,” adding, “If you decide you still want to be on the streets, then we’re going to ask you that this area has to be used for our Super Bowl facilities so that we can actually make the money for the general fund, and provide the services that we pay for.”
But the homeless say they’ve been kicked out of other popular tourist areas. And near the convention center that will hold NFL events, the homeless said that police have told them to leave and confiscated their belongings. “The police told us that after the Super Bowl, y’all can come back,” Aaron, a homeless man, told the Journal.
ABC News 7 also reports that its crews saw the streets of popular areas being repeatedly cleared of homeless people and encampments, such as a freeway on-ramp drivers would use to get to the game, in the early hours of the morning. A man named Adam told the station, “They told us that we have to be outta here within the next 20 minutes or the cops were going to start arresting people.”
San Francisco has long been grappling with a large homeless population. There were more than 7,500 homeless people in the city at last count, a 7 percent increase since 2005, more than 4,300 of whom sleep on the streets. Much of the city’s approach has been to criminalize being homeless: there are 23 city codes criminalizing things like standing or resting in public, sleeping in public places and cars, and panhandling — far more than the state’s average of nine per city. Police issued nearly 23,000 citations for violations of these codes between 2006 and 2014. As a 2015 report on these policies notes, “[A] significant proportion of San Francisco policing targets people without homes who are engaged in necessary, life-sustaining activities.”
Last summer, as the city began planning for the Super Bowl, Lee told them, “You are going to have to leave the streets,” although at the time he promised to give them an alternative place to be, laying out plans to build 500 new apartments for the homeless population. It’s not clear if those plans came to fruition.