In a rear enclave reserved for the homeless attendees at the SoMa StrEat Food Park’s Super Bowl party on Sunday, Scott Kitterman, 46, took a satisfying bite out of his second hot dog.
“I’m eating again now,” he said. He had finally recovered from a bad case of the stomach flu, made worse by his recent onset of AIDS.
Kitterman had rushed over to the party as soon as he heard about it, but by the time he arrived, others had already snatched up all the free tents. No matter, he said, there was still plenty of free food and donated socks.
“I got two new pairs,” he said gleefully.
By the game’s start, when Lady Gaga materialized on the StrEat Food Park’s outdoor televisions and began belting out the national anthem, at least 75 homeless people had checked in for the St. Francis Challenge event — the brainchild of 2015 San Francisco mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss.
The event, hosted at the outdoor eatery on the Mission District’s border, was a foil to the Super Bowl bonanza happening simultaneously downtown: Not only were homeless people invited, but on arrival they were greeted with free port-o-potty access and other resources, including acupuncture treatments.
The Weiss team’s staff fired up the grill at noon, and by 3 p.m. they had almost exhausted their entire 100-pack of vegan hot dogs – the entire event featured a purely plant-based menu. By the end of the day, they had served more than 300 of the hot dogs.
It was the perfect place for Tara Spalty to make an appearance. Last week, she and graphic designer Shaun Osburn launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $10,000 to buy tents for the city’s homeless, replacing the ones allegedly confiscated by the Department of Public Works during the sweeps of homeless encampments leading up to the Super Bowl. As of Sunday, the pair had raised almost $17,000.
At about $30 a pop, that money was buying lots of tents, spurring Spalty to solicit help from 10 of her taxi-driving friends to hand them out. “They know the streets, and they know where the homeless people are,” she said.
At the St. Francis Challenge event, Spalty initially brought 10 tents to give away. Those were gone in a flash. She caught a ride home and returned with 40 more, and those disappeared in minutes into a sea of open hands.
“There’s such a big need for this,” Spalty remarked, somewhat in awe. A licensed acupuncturist, she and her colleagues were also providing free treatments to homeless people to help relieve physical and emotional stress. By Sunday’s kickoff, they had finished 20 sessions.
For Weiss, the St. Francis Challenge event was an opportunity to get community feedback about her own proposed policy agendas. Attendees received forms, asking them to rank their preferences for ideas like creating “24/7 access to hygienic toileting” for all homeless people, or mandating that the city’s police “cease and desist from giving citations for homelessness.”
Weiss is brainstorming other ideas too, as cheaper alternatives to San Francisco’s current approach of taking people off the streets and placing them in shelters. She has also started a survey to get a read on people’s understanding of the problems facing the homeless.
To draw a cost comparison, she pointed to a new, 9,900-square-foot shelter at Pier 80, which will house 150 people at a time from now until March or April — whenever the wet winter weather abates, CBS News reported. After an initial setup cost of $500,000, the shelter will cost $150,000 per month to operate, or $1,000 per head.
“We could do a lot more with less money,” Weiss said, suggesting that it would cost a fraction of that amount to improve conditions at some perennial homeless encampments, like the one at the intersection of Cesar Chavez St. and Highway 101. City Hall, she said, could install port-o-potties at a cost of $30 per weekly servicing. Or it might open savings accounts for each person and deposit small monthly sums, set aside to help pay for their housing in the future.
Some of Weiss’ ideas are unconventional. But she’s quick to point out that existing policies have not fixed San Francisco’s homelessness problem.
It’s a many-sided conundrum. People arrive, and remain, on the streets for a multitude of reasons, all of which require different, tailored remedies from city agencies that scrape by on tight budgets.
And it’s a problem that makes people uncomfortable. That’s what documentarian Natasha Giraudie discovered first-hand while trying to fundraise for an independent film series on homelessness, which she partially screened for attendees at the Food Park’s Super Bowl party.
Giraudie started making phone calls in September. She went to more than 250 companies and organizations, with whom she had long-held, close connections. Nobody bit.
“They expressed personal interest in the project, but a hesitation to attach their brand to it,” she said.
One organization agreed to give money on the condition that she first secure other funding, which she has been unable to do so far. She created a Kickstarter campaign, but that fell tens of thousands of dollars short of its goal. At the moment, her company’s footing the bill.
“I’ve raised a lot of money over the years,” she said. “But there is a bit of an allergic reaction to this topic.”
The city doesn’t give out “citations for homelessness”, and the SFPD is very clear about that during monthly neighborhood meetings. While I applaud Ms. Weiss doing something positive for the homeless people nearby on Super Bowl Sunday (while Ed Lee was no doubt gleefully counting the tax money that all the wealthy tourists brought to the city), I wish people like Ms. Weiss would abstain from making untrue, inflammatory statements like that. It doesn’t help the situation to invent things. The reality is that the homeless encampments get raided because of rampant drug use, crime, presence of stolen items, such as bikes, blocking the sidewalks, leaving human excrement on the sidewalks, etc. They are unsanitary sites and the locals who live in the buildings around them are fed-up with the situation because it negatively impacts their lives, too. The solution is not to build permanent tent cities, the solution is to create indoor housing for these people and their belongings. It’s not fair to expect the other people living in these neighborhoods to just have to give up access to passable sidewalks or to put up with constant crimes, such as theft, burglary, hard drug use, assault, rape, and murder. We’re tired of it, and we deserve some protections, too.
I’m also unsure why Ms. Weiss is developing policies, given that she lost the mayoral election. Perhaps she should spend some time listening to the other residents of these neighborhoods, and not just the homeless. After all, if she doesn’t have our support as well, she’ll never win elections or get ballot measures passed!