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.”