May 23, 2016
I was out at the encampments today checking in with folks. Things down on Cesar Chavez looked pretty much the same as last week, but people reported SFPD came today and told them they are doing sweeps early tomorrow morning. The cops were threatening to arrest anyone who was still there in the morning, but they are threatened on a regular basis and never really know when sweeps will actually happen. There were no longer ‘notices to vacate’ posted. The thing that was out of the norm was that people reported Caltrain had engineers with them today scoping things out so they may be putting fences up.
Building fences and criminalizing homelessness does nothing to actually address the housing and health crisis we are faced with.
Again the question of the day is… where are people to go?
Everyone is so worn down from the sweeps… it’s really taking its toll on folks. The experience of homelessness is hard enough as it is… the added pressure and harassment these days is torture and compounding the trauma.
Now for a story…
When I’m out at the encampments I sometimes take pictures for documentation related to sweeps and our work, but I make an effort to be subtle and respectful about it… I will usually just ask people if they are there and since they know what we are doing they are cool with it. Lots of random people take pictures to report encampments to the City to make them move or for voyeuristic reasons, which is really disrespectful.
Well, today after I left the main encampment location I ran across this lone tent tucked away in the corner. What caught my attention was the blanket with a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe draped over the tent. It struck me as being really cool… as if the resident draped Our Lady over the tent for protection (you know how Catholics are with this kind of stuff).
I kept walking, but couldn’t resist going back to take a picture because I thought it was cool. I was talking to a couple guys standing across the street and I mentioned how cool I thought it was. They thought it was pretty cool too.
I snapped a couple pictures and was walking away… when I heard someone yell out at me… he was pissed! “WTF are you doing taking pictures?!” I walked over and apologized immediately and told him I didn’t realize anyone was there and that I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, it was just that the blanket caught my attention and I thought it was rad.
I then explained I work with the Coalition on Homelessness and was just over at the encampments checking in with folks about sweeps. He was still pretty upset, but he wasn’t mad at me, he was just having a really rough day because all of his belongings and money were taken this morning during the sweeps. He had been saving up money to get himself and his girlfriend off the street and had something lined up for tomorrow, but he is now back at square one.
We talked for a while and he was telling me he’s been living in the encampment down there for the past 2 years, but that the constant harassment these past 6 months or so have been relentless. He wants to get off the street, but he said it seems like an impossible task.
He kept asking the #1 question folks ask on a regular basis… “Where can I go?” There is no easy answer to that question.
He was happy to hear about the legislation we are working on with Supervisor John Avalos regarding encampments. He said things feel so hopeless these days and that it’s good to know folks are working on doing something to stop the harassment they are experiencing when there are no alternatives.
The Our Lady of Guadeloupe blanket came up in the conversation again. He told me he’s not religious, but his girlfriend is “very Catholic” and put the blanket on the tent for protection. He laughed and told me I was spot on with my observation and said he was cool with me taking a picture because he could see it was out of appreciation for it.
He is a good guy… who was having a rough day. I’m glad we had an opportunity to chat… even though it started out kind of rocky.