California Highway Patrol police, San Francisco police, Cal Trans workers, Department of Public Works, and workers from the mayor’s Homeless Outreach Team descended today on an encampment on Fourth and King.
Yesterday, 40-50 people lived on the sidewalk and under the freeway overpass next to the Caltrain tracks. The encampment had tents, mobile units, and other makeshift housing. One group of residents had a large tent with a well-maintained garden in the front yard.
Another, a woman who several residents said suffered from mental illness, had built a home out of metal that looked like parts of carts, wood, sheets and mattresses. After about four hours this morning, most other residents were moved out of the camp, but she remained, moving and packing suitcases. After Homeless Outreach Team members, police, workers, and humanitarian volunteers approached her, she took a single suitcase and walked to the sidewalk, then sat and watched as her other suitcases, mattresses, and the structures that constituted her house were thrown into a garbage truck.
The eviction began around 8am. Some residents said they were told they could take with them only what they could carry or, if they had something wheeled like a shopping or bike cart, what they could push. Others said they hadn’t been told one way or another what they could take, just that they had to get out.
The items in the dump trucks, said CHP Officer Sarah Wrathall, is “the stuff they said they don’t want.” Wrathall said people were given the chance to keep whatever they wanted to, and that items they wanted to keep but could not carry would be stored and tagged for retrieval later.
Jamie Crisco, a resident of the camp who was moving out, said that this was an unusual eviction. “There isn’t usually this dog and pony show,” said Crisco. A large amount of media was present at the eviction.
“Usually they will tell people to get out, and people will start packing. And in the process the workers will come and start taking stuff and throwing it away,” said Crisco, a veteran who had been living in a small trailer for a year.
“I don’t understand that,” added Crisco. “You’re creating a criminal element when you do that. You’re putting people in a position where they have to steal to acquire what just got taken from them.”
According to John Gallagher, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness who did outreach at the encampment before it was evicted, trash was pushed safely to the side and the camp was clean and peaceful before this morning’s “clean up.”
“We’re respectful, we’re quiet. Honestly, we keep this area cleaner than they ever could dream to,” agreed one person who was staying in the camp.
Wrathall described a very different situation, saying that the area under the overpass had amassed trash, waste and rats.
She said that the eviction was based on complaints from neighbors and other residents.
“People have a right to complain if they can’t walk down the sidewalk to get to Caltrain,” said Wrathall. She said that some people feared the dogs that lived in the camp.
She said illegal lodging and trespassing was reason enough to evict the camp’s residents. “It doesn’t have to be any other kind of crime.”
No citations were issued this morning.
Camp resident Margaret Stallings said that the camp was very peaceful and neighbors walked on the sidewalk and parked their cars in the adjacent parking lots without issues.
“This is a dead end street,” she said. The area under the freeway is out of the way of most city life and, according to Stallings, “Some people have been underneath there for eight years.”
In an outreach report written based on Gallagher’s observations, he stated that “This camp is so peaceful that I saw more that four people on their way to work walk unafraid right down the middle of camp.”
Patrice Perkins, who had been living in the camp for two and a half months, said that the encampment's location was relatively tucked away. He expressed frustration that many of the residents will be pushed out towards other parts of SoMa and downtown.
“We found a place where you’re not in public. We’re not bothering anybody here,” he said. He pointed out the no parking signs along the street.
“See, no parking. It’s not being used.”
His neighbor in the camp, James Belcher, said that the eviction was causing him to miss two classes at Laney College. “I missed Civil War History this morning, and I’ll miss math at 10:30,” he said. Belcher said he has been studying for a few solid semesters and earning good grades while looking for work, but struggling, based in part on issues associated with being a disabled veteran.
“It’s difficult for me to study in this little tent and stay in school,” he said.
One resident, who said she provided first aid at the camp, shared disinfectant wipes with a DPW worker when he expressed a need for them.
One of the city's stated concerns with the camp was the presence of children, and in Gallagher’s outreach statement he said at least two children lived in the camp. None were present this morning, and Wrathall said that in her previous visits to the camp, she hadn’t seen any.
“I’ve never seen kids here, but if I did, I would take them to CPS [Child Protective Services]. Of if they’re older, 16 or 17, I would connect them to services like Huckleberry House. I would never walk away from someone who is 18 or under in the encampment. Its not safe," she said.
“Homelessness is not a crime. People are afraid for the public to see their children because they will be taken away from them. And for what, the crime of being poor?” said Gallagher.
The Homeless Outreach Team secured rooms for several of the people who were evicted, including Stallings and Crisco.
“They’re housing me. I’ve been waiting on the VA list for housing for four and a half years,” said Crisco. “I’m a combat vet. I used to be a business owner. But life does things to you. Ends up putting you in places you didn’t plan on being.”
Crisco said he was happy to accept the room, but frustrated in general with the way the homeless are pushed around.
“I’m only human. I can only take so much pushing and prodding,” he said. “Sometimes, someone’s going to snap. And they’ll say, it’s the drugs. They never say, maybe it’s us. Maybe its what we’re doing to them.”
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