Gov. Gavin Newsom joined city workers in a homeless encampment street sweep on 19th Street near Mission and Capp streets. Photo by Annika Hom, Aug. 27, 2021.

Ariel, a longtime Mission resident currently living in a tent on 19th Street between Capp and Mission streets, was transported to a safe sleeping site and offered services following a Friday, Aug. 27 media event attended by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

Newsom, participating in a media event prior to tomorrow’s recall election, was soon gone. But by Monday, Aug. 30, Ariel was back on 19th Street in his tent. 

The catered media event surrounding a dignitary’s participation in city outreach to homeless residents is not unusual. But, for Ariel and the neighbors and social workers who have come to know him, it’s also an example of how difficult it is, after the reporters and photographers depart, to actually transition someone from the streets to a shelter.

Mission Local spoke with Ariel about the experience. He said that on Aug. 27 he was offered an opportunity to relocate to the shelter, which included a platform for his tent and an electric hookup. “I just went to look at it,” he said. But he doesn’t want to commit to it yet. 

According to neighbors, Ariel was the only person staying on 19th St. before the pandemic. A few others showed up during the pandemic, some of whom accepted services during Newsom’s visit. 

Ariel, who says he moved here from New York nearly 30 years ago, is well-known and liked by neighborhood residents. An individual passing by his tent on 19th St. during our conversation volunteered that Ariel has been in the neighborhood for 15 years, and once had a room in a residential hotel down the street, which Ariel confirmed.

Ariel’s tent abuts the building housing Mission Local’s former office. Our writers recall many pleasant conversations with him as he charged his phone in the building lobby. Soft-spoken and polite, he often mentioned specific fears and paranoias about people trying to control and harm him, perhaps even via satellite. This, he said on Monday, is a deterrent to moving off the street.  

Sam Dodge, who leads San Francisco’s Healthy Streets Operations Center, confirmed that his team offered Ariel a space at a safe sleeping site run by Dolores Street Community Services at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. following Newsom’s event. 

“They’re wonderful, very low threshold,” said Dodge of the site which opened last year. “We had hopes that that might be a good solution.”

Dodge said they convinced Dolores Street Community Services to hold a space for Ariel for three days so he could think about it. But Ariel’s ultimate decision to stay in his tent at 19th St. wasn’t a surprise to the community.

Ariel may not be able to abide by conventional housing rules over the long term, due to behavioral and mental health issues, said John Gridley, facilities manager at supportive housing organization DISH.

Gridley, who befriended Ariel several years ago and delivers letters and cards from Ariel’s aunt and uncle, has attempted to get him housing in the past. 

Neighbors have observed regular visits from the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team, and Gridley said he asked HOT to include him on their visits, as the presence of strangers who know his name and where he lives has distressed Ariel before.

“The type of services that he requires wouldn’t fit within the parameters of the supportive housing organization that I specifically work for,” said Gridley. “I just don’t know if there’s something out there that would fit him better.”

Carlos Wadkins, a human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, said “congregate shelter is not adequate or appropriate for a lot of populations.” People with more complicated medical and behavioral needs, disabilities, or past trauma, for example, might “fall through the cracks.”

“It takes a diversity of resources and trauma-informed outreach,” continued Wadkins, noting that encampment clearings or “resolutions” are typically disruptive. “The model itself is not conducive to that sort of trauma-informed relationship.”

“It is mostly a spectacle, and not just when Governor Newsom is there,” he said.

For all of the spectacle, however, Ariel this morning was unaware that Newsom visited him 19th St. last month — an interaction detailed in the city’s newspaper of record. Ariel says he likes the governor. But he’s still not sure he’ll vote on Sept. 14.

Dodge did not comment on the conspicuous timing of Newsom’s visit ahead of the recall election, and he maintains that city programs can work, even for Ariel. 

“It’s important at some point to find a way [to shelter Ariel]. Right now, he wasn’t ready, which is fine,” said Dodge. “It’s totally changing his life. It’s a big thing. We’ll try again.”

Ariel says he is open to moving someday, but 19th Street is home “for now.” The people that also make their homes and businesses there treat him accordingly.

“What he has now is a community, people who look out for him and care for him,” said Gridley. “It might not be conventional, not how a lot of us do community. But it is a community.”

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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  1. If the homeless refuse services and make no effort to clean themselves up, then they should be removed from society. Enough is enough. Why should decent tax paying citizens continue to put up with addicts destroying our city?

  2. Commenters: Try bringing solutions, rather than useless rants, to the table. Also try befriending your very own unhoused neighbor to gain the insights necessary for YOU to actively participate in resolving this “intractable” problem.

    1. RJ Sloan:

      Here are come solutions, outlined above: pass and enforce laws outlawing sleeping, shitting and doing drugs on public streets and in public parks, prescribe and oversee delivery of medication to members of society who threaten others and who cannot maintain hygiene at a level that does not endanger themselves or others; wash the streets and sidewalks every night to reduce the public health risk caused by open sewers; prosecute drug sales, prosecute sale of stollen items, prosecute public drug use; outlaw sale of single bottles of beer and airplane bottles of wine or spirits; purchase one way tickets to any destination requested; cut off all transfers of public tax dollars if temporary housing is offered and declined more than 3 times.

    2. Anti-homeless architecture! Big money goes into making the most beautiful parts of Madrid hostile towards the homeless, and examples of these effective installations can be found everywhere you look. This how you keep a city from being a “homeless ” incubator. They don’t welcome “homeless” with open arms and do things to discourage “homeless” The only solution proven to work !

  3. Carlos Wadkins, human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, said “congregate shelter is not adequate or appropriate for a lot of populations.” People with more complicated medical and behavioral needs, disabilities, or past trauma, for example, might “fall through the cracks.”
    I always see quotes from people with the Coalition on Homelessness, usually dissing whatever work is being done. But I never see them on the streets helping to take anyone off the streets and into supportive services. In the end, this article focuses on one person, who plainly has serious mental impairments, and his personal choice to refuse housing and stay on the street (something that would not be permitted in many other cities). It buries the fact that multiple others on the street “accepted services during Newsom’s visit.” So was it a meaningless spectacle because one guy refused services, or a success case since several others accepted them?

  4. With no knowledge of this person in particular…..”Ariel may not be able to abide by conventional housing rules over the long-term due to behavioral and mental health issues”.

    But we are supposed accept and allow people in this condition living on our streets? Wrong in every way.

  5. If you squat in a tent you are “community”, but if you buy a condo you are an evil gentrifier. It’s absolutely Orwellian.

  6. This article downplays the severity of Ariel’s mental health problems.
    I have often feared for others’ safety when he in an episode.
    He is soft spoken and kind, but also violent and unpredictable.

    1. Ariel is has said to me, “I’m going to fucking kill you”, two separate times and I witnessed him saying these exact words to a group of four girls walking by. On all three occasions, nothing was said to him and it was during the middle of the day. On the hundreds of other times I’ve walked past him he smiled and was pleasant.

      To say he is “is well-known and liked by neighborhood residents” is not a sentiment shared by all residents in the neighborhood. He can be really scary at times.

      He is the epitome of why we need conservatorship laws to take him off the street and get him the help he obviously can’t provide by himself. He needs help forced on him.

      Whole situation is really sad….

      1. I’m a life long leftist community organizer. I’ve worked in subsidized and affordable housing development for decades. I’m not working to give mentally ill, often substance abusing homeless the right to live and die on the street. The city should 5150 him – place in housing with services whether he wants to be there or not. Sometimes psychotropic meds can help a person become less self destructive. And if the comment above about him threatening people is true, being a threat to others is a reason to place someone in treatment against their will. I’ve got ten years sober in AA. I have known some alcoholics and drug addicts who’ve lived – and died – on the street. Is that what’s best for them and the community?

  7. Excellent piece humanizing someone living on the street and pointing to the complicated and complex problem, which has gotten worse due to almost 40 years of neglect and will get much worse the longer it’s left unattended. We passed Prop C, so money is no excuse.

    1. It has been “attended ” to for 40 years! There are tens of thousands of ex “homeless” that are already housed in San Francisco at an expense of literally billions of dollars over that 40 year period. But it has only made the problem worse and more intractable! I just was in Athens, Milano, Firenze and Madrid. All of them have no “homeless” camps on the streets and instead have streets with outdoor cafes full of regular happy housed people enjoying their city of great shopping and restaurants. NO EMPTY STORE FRONTS ! In San Francisco the road to hell is paved with thoughtless “compassion”.

  8. The courts say that cities can’t enforce laws against sleeping in parks and on sidewalks if they don’t provide shelter for the homeless individuals affected by these laws.

    Here’s someone being offered shelter and refusing it. I’m not judging that decision, but you have to take some of the heat off of the people in government or the citizens trying to clean up our public spaces. They are doing outreach and providing resources, and it’s met with the belief that living on the street is an acceptable alternative.

    What else is there to do beyond involuntary commitment at that point?

    1. When the city’s homelessness czar says “Shelter is not for everyone, necessarily” (at the Manny’s session a month ago), it’s clear that local government is not trying to solve anything.

  9. What kind of housing, pray tell, Carlos Wadkins, would befit Ariel then? Or should he just be allowed to sleep on the streets? Yes, sure, that’s a win-win for everyone…

    1. … as he slurped fois gras at an “Academy of Arts” banquet, cackling merrily about his policy to have the street homeless sprayed by the fire department with ice cold water at 4 o’clock in the morning?
      That former mayor, a former “civil rights” lawyer? That guy?