Toni Machada, a resident of the homeless encampment behind Best Buy
Carlos Alvarez poses for a picture at the homeless encampment behind Best Buy. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.)

Roger “Popeye” Schneider, 75, huddled up on a hammock, wrapped himself in a red waterproof sleeping bag behind Best Buy and braved the afternoon’s harsh wind, rain and hail.

The only evidence that a person was under the bundle: A quaking shoe that stuck out of it.

When the rain and hail subsided at 1 p.m., and a reporter asked Schneider how it went, he leaned over, and gasped: “Sucked.”

He used his only tarp to cover his possessions, leaving no room for himself. Schneider said he’d been on the hammock for around three days.

“Shit,” he said, hoarsely. “I don’t feel too good right now.” 

Carlos Alvarez, a homeless resident who has lived at the encampment behind Best Buy
Roger “Popeye” Schneider poses for a picture at the homeless encampment behind Best Buy. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.)

Near the end of the afternoon storm, two members of San Francisco’s Homeless Outreach Team parked next to Schneider to check on residents of the encampment at Alameda Street and Treat Avenue.

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Schneider accepted the city workers’ offer of a taxi ride to the Hummingbird Navigation Center, where he could keep warm and take a shower. The plan for afterward was to taxi him to one of the three shelters that would open at 4 p.m. today for drop-ins: Next Door Shelter at 1001 Polk St.,, MSC South at 525 5th St., or Sanctuary at 201 8th St. Meanwhile, St. Mary’s Cathedral, at 111 Gough St., was set to open at 6 p.m.

The two city workers passed out hand-warmers to the residents, alerted them of the shelter options that would open within the next several hours, and gave transportation advice and taxi rides to those planning to take shelter at one of the facilities.

Residents are allowed to bring two medium-sized bags (approximately 30 gallons each), a rolled-up tent, and an airline-carry-on-sized item for a 24-hour stay at the four shelters, according to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. 

The intake period for each shelter, except St. Mary’s Cathedral, ends at 10 p.m., masks are required, and generally, multiple pets — up to two, it appears — are accepted. The department said that all Homeless Outreach Teams are doing outreach about shelter availability, and that concerning shelter capacity, it will “continue to monitor shelter utilization and respond as needed.”

Schneider shared few words about the situation — and among them, a recommendation that other homeless residents echoed: Have more city workers checking in on homeless people throughout the storms.

For at least some of roughly 15 to 30 residents who live on the two sidewalks, at Alameda Street and Treat Avenue, the dreadful weather was the worst they can recall in years, if not decades, of living in the city.

For some of them, San Francisco’s Homeless Outreach Team has been a lifeline.

Yet only one Homeless Outreach Team works in the Mission District, according to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The team that showed up to the encampment appeared to comprise two employees, and residents were thankful for them.

Like Schneider, other residents on the block said they wished city employees would check on them more often. If a person is away from their tent or not ready to leave, they could lose an opportunity to take shelter at one of the city’s Navigation Centers.

“San Francisco has a lot of ways to help the homeless out. They’re doing their best. I just feel like people can lose a spot for just being late,”  said Carlos Alvarez, a 28-year-old resident of the encampment. “Just be a little patient; sometimes, I know it’s frustrating because (employees) want to help them now, and they’re not ready to be helped.”

On New Year’s Eve, the sidewalk and drains in the area were flooded. At the time, no one came to check in on the residents, Alvarez said — and, he, his girlfriend, and her two close friends were soaked. Meanwhile, moisture and mold forced them to dump possessions, such as clothes and sleeping bags. 

The Homeless Outreach Team came the morning after the New Year’s Eve storm, he said, and got them a spot at a Navigation Center across from the nearby Target, by South Van Ness Avenue. He was immensely grateful.

“It helps a lot (to) have an option,” he said. “Sometimes, when you don’t feel like you have options, you can’t go anywhere … But when you have a Plan B, you can bear things. Hope helps a lot.”

Today’s storm and the one on New Year’s Eve were the most intense he could recall in the 12 years he’s lived in the city and San Mateo County.

“Look all around us,” Alvarez said today. “It’s flooded already. The drains are full. It’s crazy.”

But he also saw that some of his neighbors were unable to get a spot at a Navigation Center because they weren’t present at the encampment when the Homeless Outreach Team checked in.

In the days since the New Year’s Eve storm that he has been sheltered at the Navigation Center, he has let others who couldn’t get into the shelter stay in his tent.

Alvarez, his girlfriend and her two close friends packed two bags each — for him, a toothbrush, pair of shoes, backpack, flashlight, cell phone charger, portable charger and similar possessions — and went to the Navigation Center.

He hopes to get housing, and credits his girlfriend of seven years for keeping him going.

“I just want to make it so we have a better life in the future,” he said. 

His birthday is also tomorrow.

“We’re just going to stay warm, you know,” he said. “Spend time with the family — see if I could come go see my mom in the East Bay and stuff.”

Toni Machado, the resident who lives on the sidewalk at Treat Avenue, said that because she has three dogs, she hasn’t been able to stay at shelters. 

She weathered the New Year’s Eve storm underneath a tree with a Gorilla cart to carry her dogs: Duchess and her pups, Peanut Butter and Jelly.

“As long as I’ve lived in San Francisco, I don’t think we’ve had any storms as bad as the ones in the last week or so,” said Machado, who has lived in the city since ’84 and has been homeless for 20 of those years.

Toni Machada, a resident of the homeless encampment behind Best Buy
Toni Machada poses for a picture with her dog Jelly at the homeless encampment behind Best Buy. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.)

This time, she was better prepared, with a tarp — and gave Schneider a tarp and hammock for the storm.

She agreed it would help homeless residents if there were more people on the Homeless Outreach Team who came more often. She added that other types of assistance, such as tarps and hand-warmers, would be helpful.

And, it would be helpful if more dogs were allowed per person, she said. Hers, evidently, are well trained — she gestured with her hand for them to stay across the street, and they did, before we walked over to her tent.

Machado would prefer to take her dogs with her to a shelter, but said she’s been told there’s a two-dog limit. 

“They told me to get rid of the dogs, and I’m like, ‘Well, why don’t you get rid of one of your kids?” she said.

Machado said she found the mother, Duchess, in a dumpster 12 years ago. 

“I promised her I’d never give her away. I fed them chicken and rice —  they’re well-fed, better than I am,” she said with a chuckle.

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David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

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  1. Where are the shelter beds? Why is it that people cannot go to a location and request shelter? The city has known since the week before New Years that we’d have flooding. Open a church or the Moscone Center before more people die of hypothermia.

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  2. Maybe the rain will inspire them get their lives together, get help, get off drugs, find a job? Nah.

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    1. Why are the same failed solutions advanced over and over? They had to tear down housing projects in the past. A home is no solution to these problems.

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    2. Every day there are mountains of meth and fentanyl for sale in San Francisco. More and more people prefer indulging in drugs to homes. Who are you to criticize their choices. Meth makes you feel like God, no home can do that. I know , I tweaked and got lit up one time. It was better than sex (even though I was having sex at the time). The problem is meth is a human right in San Francisco.

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      1. Our city has a shortage of shelter beds, Residential beds, and navigation center beds.
        I do not think many who make comments here understand how much we could help if we added Residential treatment beds in particular. Even if we force the seriously mentally ill or addicted into programs, there is no place for them to go!! Yes, this is a LACK of low income housing, and yes this is a LACK of treatment options for the poor.

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