Internment Camp or Shelter?

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The Coalition on Homelessness has been receiving a lot of reports about things getting intense down on Division lately… even more since Super Bowl City has ended.

There are a few possible reasons for this, such as the media attention, the increased complaints to City Hall to get rid of the tents (and people) and also because the City has finally opened pier 80… to some degree. Now when they say “move along” they have a place they can tell them to go. Sounds like a good option… in theory.

A big issue is that the City blew it with how they implemented it. They weren’t honest with people about what they were offering. One man told me… “We are constantly being lied to and they lied to us again with this. It’s an internment camp with fences and razor wire. They have off duty police guarding the place. I would not be safe there.” Another said… “We were told it was going to be like the Navigation Center. We were excited to go! We thought they were going to help us. But when we went way the hell out there we saw what looked like a prison with guards. I’m afraid to go there.”

Fear is what everyone I talked to expressed. They are afraid about what’s going to happen. They have been warned something is going down in the next week. There is only speculation about what that is.

One young woman reported that during the middle of the night a police car pulls up alongside the line of tents and sits there while having their siren going off waking everyone up. That’s it… doesn’t even get out of the car… just the siren to harass people.

Based on experience and what people are reporting, my guess is that they are going to be doing major sweeps. Telling people to either go to pier 80 or go to jail.  That’s what happened during the last El Nino. They have already been running people’s names for warrants… for “quality of life” violations like sitting, sleeping, camping, etc. People are afraid that if they go to pier 80 they will have them trapped and try to put them in jail since apparently the security is off duty police officers.

Sounds like a stretch, but why would anyone trust them not to pull something like that? These folks have no reason to trust the City.

And with the City expecting to shell out a ton of funding each month for pier 80, there is going to be a lot of pressure to fill it up and get people off the streets. But at this point it sounds like it would have to be by force. It’s NOT the case that people don’t want help and that people are choosing to sleep on the street… it’s that they don’t believe this is a safe option for them.

People were told that, like the Navigation Center, there would be no curfew… in other words they wouldn’t be trapped there. Apparently the razor wire fence closes at 9PM. I’ve been told that there is a side door they can go in and out of, but people reported it wasn’t that easy. I haven’t checked it out myself, so I can’t say for sure what the case is.

Something that’s really disturbing to me is that someone has been going around handing out a paper explaining to people that they will give them $25,000 to leave town. If it’s true or not, it’s really messed up for many different reasons. It’s basically paying poor people to go away. Sure, one could say the intent is to help someone, but the deal is that they need to leave the City. What’s really bothering me is that people are really hopeful about this.

We are going to be keeping an extra close eye on Division this week. Things could get really bad. I’m very concerned about folks down there. They are extremely vulnerable.

The City dropped the ball when it comes to the El Niño emergency shelter. They really blew it. And the folks on the street are the ones suffering as a result.

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