New access to homeless shelters has been curtailed as of Monday, leaving street dwellers on the street. File photo, February 2016, by Joe Rivano Barros

The 72-hour deadline for homeless residents camped out on Division Street between 11th and South Van Ness passed without fanfare on Friday evening, though many had already left the area by then and moved just further south into the Mission District.

“They kicked us out of our spot, they took all our shit and told us to move,” said Nato, who declined to give his last name and moved from Division Street on Wednesday after news of the impending crackdown. He and some friends set up tents on the other side of the Best Buy parking lot near Florida and Treat — within eyesight of Division Street — and said the area was quickly growing with tents.

“There’s been people here, in the last couple days more and more,” said Otto, one of his companions who also declined to give a last name.

The Department of Public Health issued a health warning on Tuesday evening targeted at encampments on Division Street, which grew to more than 200 by some counts as a result of winter rains and sweeps from downtown areas before the Super Bowl.

Residents were ordered to leave the area by Friday at 5 p.m. or risk loss of their tents and possible arrest. A similar order was added on Thursday evening for residents of the four-block stretch from 17th to Division bordered by Vermont and San Bruno. Those camped underneath the freeway there have until Sunday at 5 p.m. to leave, meaning most of the areas of Division Street populated by encampments in the last couple months will be tent-free come Monday, if city agencies act on the notices.

Some were openly defiant of the orders, however, saying they would stay until the very end.

“They gon’ have to beat my ass,” said Ashante Jones, who has been living on Division Street for more than two months. Shuffling between tents with his belongings in tow, Jones lambasted Mayor Ed Lee for the crackdown and vowed to continue upkeep to his block until he was forced to leave. “Do you see my packing up my stuff? I’m just cleaning.”

Eddie “Tennessee” Tate said he knew about the notices but would not leave until forced, though he was worried that the police would arrest him and the Department of Public Works would trash his belongings if he stayed much longer.

“I don’t want to replace this,” he said, pointing to his plywood shelter with an attached generator. He wouldn’t be able to take all of his belongings into Pier 80, he feared, and said he had only moved to Division Street in the first place when forced from his previous spot at Harrison and Fourth. “They told us to go here before because of the Super Bowl. They told me to move six times in four days.”

Eddie Tate sitting in his shelter on Division Street, where he said he'll wait until the last minute to move. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.
Eddie Tate sitting in his shelter on Division Street, where he said he’ll wait until the last minute to move. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

The Department of Public Health said that since notices were posted on Tuesday, 54 people have accepted shelter to Pier 80 — the new 150-bed shelter in the Dogpatch touted by city officials as one solution for those on Division Street. It still has 17 empty beds, the department said, and the Navigation Center — another transitional shelter in the Mission District — has another 15.

And though residents had largely cleared out by Friday, leaving blocks once filled with tents almost completely empty, a couple dozen simply shuffled across the Best Buy parking lot and set up camp near a small dog park. Wooden pallets, plastic tarps, foam, sandbags, and other materials left behind by previous occupants on Division Street were scavenged by those living around the corner on Friday night.

Left-overs on the block in front of Best Buy near Division and Harrison, which was filled with tents just days ago. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.
Left-overs on the block in front of Best Buy near Division and Harrison, which was filled with tents just days ago. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

Deeno, who moved from Division to Florida and Treat two and a half weeks earlier, marshaled a pick-up of the leftovers with two volunteers from his encampment. He and some 10 others have been living on one side of the street for some time, but are joined daily by those escaping the impending sweeps — though they tend to keep separate from the newcomers.

“I’m the grandfather of this whole tent city,” he said of his side of the street. He and others collect garbage and leave it in a designated red zone for the Department of Public Works — even separating out the recycling — and have developed a system for urinating in a nearby gutter and bagging all other waste. Division Street, on the other hand, had become unmanageable.

“The numbers were too much,” he said. “I moved off Division because one night I woke up and there were too many people near my tent.”

Though he has managed to keep his area clean for the last few weeks and has developed a rapport with Public Works staff, he said he worries that the crackdown on Division will lead to action against his encampment as well and a push to another area of the city.

“But the thing of it is, we can only stay in a place for a minute at a time anyways,” he said.

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Joe was born in Sweden, where the Chilean half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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