By Wilson Walker

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Before the coronavirus changed the way people live in San Francisco and elsewhere, the City was already facing several crises. Homelessness and a drug epidemic were the big stories on city streets.

One week into the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place effort, those challenges are even more apparent on the streets.

“When I come in the morning I usually see people camped out,” said San Francisco resident Sherae Drake on Friday. “Guess they put them in shelters or something?”

In South of Market, the sidewalks have fewer people, but they are certainly not empty.

“You see a few stragglers. But as far as the crowds? It’s all different right now,” Drake said of the sidewalks.

But while there may be fewer homeless people visible, that’s about all you’ll see on some streets.

“What has changed is the people are sticking out like sore thumbs,” said business owner Jason Paul. He is still trying to serve his loyal customers, one at a time. He says many of those still outside are the most vulnerable.

“It’s the same suspects,” Paul said. “It’s the people that are already struggling in a crisis that are on the streets nowadays.”

“The streets have gotten, kind of, you know, how could you say it? Calmed down,” a man named Larry said in the Tenderloin. “They’ve calm down a little bit, but it’s getting tough out here though.”

The Tenderloin offered a stark lesson in what has not changed in San Francisco. On the city’s most notorious drug corners, it was business as usual. Paramedics are still racing to suspected overdoses on the sidewalks. Only now they wear masks.

At many corners, there are still crowds of people packed together with seemingly nowhere to go. The crises that faced San Francisco before the coronavirus have not gone away.

“So we have got to be really aggressive in moving forward about finding hotel rooms, vacant apartment units,” said San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston. “Even if they’re used just for temporary use right now, to get folks out of those congregate living situations and off the streets.”

The city is trying to find spaces – safe, individual spaces – for the city’s homeless. But that challenge is no easier today than it was in years past. And a lot of people want to know, what happens if this drags on for a while.

“You have these people, they aggressively panhandle and ask for money,” said Paul. “What happens when there’s no one in the streets to give them money? What’s gonna happen next?”

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