SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — There’s a new push to ease the long-term homeless problem in San Francisco. But it means more shuffling for those who seek shelter in makeshift camps.
For the half-dozen people living in tents along the 400 block of San Francisco’s Division Street, the arrival of the Department of Public Works trucks meant it was time to go somewhere else.
“This was ‘somewhere’ for three weeks. Before that, that was ‘somewhere.’ Before that, two blocks over was ‘somewhere,'” said one homeless man who identified himself as “Memphis” and has lived on the streets for several years. “My friend and I are moving, we have no idea where to go,” he said.
Division Street has long been home to the most visible of the city’s homeless, but these days people here are often on the move. “Oh yeah, it’s the shuffle,” explained Memphis, as he packed up his tent.
The shuffle, however, is also a sign of the city’s re-calibrated homeless effort – a push to limit large-scale encampments while offering services to those who are asked to move.
“We’re also giving people notice when we come in that we’ve got answers for them, we’ve got places to go,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who this summer launched a new city department focused on coordinating the city’s homeless efforts.
Those offers of assistance don’t go unnoticed on the street, but Memphis believes the city’s efforts don’t match the needs of the homeless population.
“Yeah, [Homeless Outreach Teams] comes by all the time, that’s great,” said Memphis. “But again, there are how many homeless people?”
The new plan has city work crews hustling to keep the sidewalks in order, while outreach teams offer help to those who are living there. A larger challenge will be scaling up that available help to match the demand.
Realistically, that’s an effort that could take years, but for the people living on the street, life is much more day-to-day. For a lot of them, the new plan B is an RV.
“I talked to a couple RV owners, and they don’t get hassled by the cops,” explained homeless man Mark Eleson. “The police look a little more kindly on RV owners for some reason.”
Eleson said he might use his small amount of savings to purchase a home on wheels.
The scattered tents along Division Street may look like evidence of the same old problem, but the lack of large encampments and the constant moving of those who are still here reveal the earliest evidence that a new approach is underway.
“I think we’re getting to a point where we can say you can’t just be on the streets without condition,” said Mayor Lee, who expects real results will only come when the city can expand available housing – a process that will take some time.
As for those who were moving today, their tents and belongings were packed as crews begin to hose down the sidewalks. Pointing towards the elevated highway a block away, Memphis tells a friend “I’m thinking we go down that way.”