City workers broke up a 20-person Potrero Hill encampment, known as Box City 2, on Tuesday morning, forcing about half of its residents at De Haro and Berry to migrate two blocks over to Carolina and 15th streets, a block where a large camp had previously existed and been removed.

Although city officials want to remove all large scale encampments, homeless advocates and those residents moved on Tuesday argued against the strategy.  Moreover, they pointed out, Tuesday’s removal simply resettled the residents at old camp site that was considered “resolved” – at least until Tuesday.

Over the past year, the Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s efforts have been focused on removing large scale tent encampments and connecting their residents to services and Navigation Center beds.

The city has also made investments in re-encampment prevention efforts, but it is unclear how successful those have been as new campers often move in. 

“It’s actually better in some cases to keep people together as a group, so you can provide the services and find a better street [for them to camp] with less impact [on the neighborhood],” said Amy Farah Weiss, an advocate for the homeless and founder of the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge.

The booted Box City 2 campers agreed. Previous to joining that encampment, Sean, one of the residents, said that he was removed from a large encampment on Vermont Street during a city-sanctioned encampment resolution there about a month ago.

 Sean, 59, said he tries to hold down his jobs as a bike messenger and DoorDash courier to the best of his ability, but the constant shuffle had destabilized him.

Sean. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

“If you have a job and you are [targeted for removal], it’s kind of like, what do I do ? Do I leave, do I stay?” he asked.

Sean said he only managed to hold down a full time job for a year while living in a homeless community wedged underneath the freeway at Cesar Chavez Street.

“We were there for a while, we knew about [routine cleanings],” he said. “I had people watching my stuff. That’s the only way you can do it.”

Moreover, the camp removals have become like an endless game of musical chairs.

Farah Weiss has tracked the Box city residents since before their original encampment removal in January.   

Of the 32 people who lived there, 20 received placement in the Mission’s Navigation Center, 11 moved on to different encampments, and one was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, she said.

Six months later, she said, only four people placed at the Navigation Center got housing and more than half were back on the street, most at the Deharo and Berry street camp that was cleared on Tuesday.

Marisela sitting with her dogs, Lola and Psycho. Photo by Lola M. Chavez