Football fans visiting the Super Bowl festivities might have no idea that any homeless people live here.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, the city said it relocated about 24 people who had been living on the posh waterfront, where the National Football League set up a week-long “Super Bowl City.” Those two-dozen people were essentially bumped to the top of a waiting list at San Francisco’s most sought-after shelter.
In addition, some homeless people who had been camping near the convention center where the NFL is holding events say authorities confiscated their belongings and kicked them out of the area.
“The police told us that after the Super Bowl, y’all can come back,” said 40-year-old Aaron, who declined to give his last name, as he stood in front of a tent that he and his wife, Shawna, set up under a freeway off-ramp.
Nearly 7,000 homeless people live in San Francisco, and it has long been the city’s thorniest political issue. The problem has been especially visible since three transient people allegedly murdered a concertgoer in Golden Gate Park in October. Just on Tuesday morning, a police officer was stabbed in a confrontation near a homeless encampment.
For the Super Bowl, the city closed off about six blocks around Justin Herman Plaza, where about 30 people typically spent the day, said Sam Dodge, who is Mayor Ed Lee’s point person on homelessness.
Beginning a few months ago, the city’s homeless-outreach workers offered the 30 people a spot at the Navigation Center, which has quickly become the city’s most popular homeless program because it provides curfew-less shelter, meals and help finding more-permanent housing. One organization, the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, said it has a waiting list of 150 people for the Navigation Center.
Dodge said the city gave priority at the Navigation Center to the people living by Justin Herman Plaza. About 24 took the offer, meaning that those on the Mission Neighborhood Health Center’s waiting list will have to wait longer. “From the perspective of a homeless person, that’s unfair,” said Laura Guzman, director of the health center.
While the homeless in the Super Bowl City area got quicker access to the Navigation Center than if they had lived elsewhere, Dodge said those people were in need of the program. “We live in a constricted world. I want to live in a world where we have affordable housing for everyone,” Dodge said. “You always have to make these hard decisions when you’re in roles like my role.”
Dodge said that no homeless people were arrested or given citations during the Super Bowl City relocations. But the homeless and their advocates said that in recent weeks, police and city officials had kicked people out of the most popular tourist spots and the area next to the convention center.
Aaron and Shawna said they had been living a block away from the city’s convention center when police started telling them to move a month ago. They said resettled in different spots within the neighborhood, but when they returned to their spot a week ago, they found that their tent and belongings were gone. They moved 1.5 miles away to under an off-ramp of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and in front of a Best Buy store. Their new, blue tent had no belongings but for blankets and four sandbags. “That’s all I have,” Aaron said.
About 80 other tents were set up in a row up and down the block. On Monday, three workers from the Mission Neighborhood Health Center checked in on encampment. They said the homeless began setting up there about six months ago, but those displaced by the Super Bowl City accounted for only a fraction of those living there.
Dodge said the city didn’t have a targeted effort to relocate anyone living outside the Super Bowl City area, but said that police and city officials could have moved people out of certain areas as part of their normal operations. He said the homeless could likely retrieve confiscated belongings at city storage.
Dodge said he hoped to move some of the people living by the Best Buy to a shelter that is expanding its capacity by 150 beds. That shelter is at Pier 80, in the former warehouse of Oracle Team USA, the sailing team that was housed there during San Francisco’s last major sporting event, the 2013 America’s Cup.