“We’ll give you an alternative. We are always going to be supportive. But you are going to have to leave the streets,” Mayor Ed Lee told the homeless population of San Francisco. This initiative was announced in preparation for the Super Bowl, which the city hosted this weekend. However, Lee stated that they were not sweeping away the city’s homeless because of the Super Bowl, but that this was a long-term plan to reduce homelessness in the city. Yet an increase in anti-homeless laws, including those that criminalize camping in public parks, speak to the contrary. The “alternative” that Lee mentions is to relocate a small portion of those living on the street where “Super Bowl City” will take place to a shelter called Navigation Center. Unfortunately Navigation Center, which estimates 4,358 people live without housing in San Francisco on any given day, can only provide housing to 75 individuals and currently has a waiting list of 150 people. The population that Lee has ordered to be relocated to Navigation Center will be prioritized over those on the waiting list. Does this sound like Lee is really concerned about the welfare of the homeless and isn’t just cleaning up for the Super Bowl?
Ed Lee has previously promised that he would push city planners to make room for low-income housing, but nothing has come of this yet. On the other hand, Lee doesn’t really seem to understand how homelessness works, saying, “If you decide you still want to be on the streets, then we’re going to ask you that this area has to be used for our Super Bowl facilities so that we can actually make the money for the general fund, and provide the services that we pay for.” Yes, homelessness is obviously a choice. (Please note the heavy sarcasm.) Even if those without shelter decided they “still wanted” to be on the streets it doesn’t sound like they would be “asked” to leave as many interviewed have said they were bullied by police, even having their possessions confiscated. Even more insulting, “Super Bowl City,” which will feature live music, games, and pep rallies, is free to the public. Apparently “free to the public” does not apply to you if you’re homeless.
The situation in San Francisco is not unique, though. It’s another episode in a long string of anti-homeless measures throughout the United States. Perhaps most visibly, cities are installing structures that make it impossible to sleep in public places. Some of these include arms in the middle of benches and spikes on sidewalk edges and window ledges. It’s not enough for politicians to say they’re going to provide housing; they need to actually do it. San Francisco is a rapidly growing city, and it expects to earn a significant profit by hosting the Super Bowl. If Mayor Lee is as serious as he stated he was about helping the city’s homeless population, he will ensure that a significant portion of this revenue goes to social programs and to low-income housing.
If you watched the Super Bowl this weekend, you probably didn’t hear the protestors taking a stand against Lee’s policies over the roar of the crowds. And although ESPN published a brief (136 words) report on the unrest surrounding the Super Bowl, it didn’t provide any coverage on television. As a nation, we need to do better. Too frequently we collectively ignore the disenfranchisement of our fellow citizens. This is only encouraged when politicians force their less fortunate constituents out of the city—doing so is placing a penalty on poverty. To echo one protester’s sign, “Hey Lee, tackle homelessness, not the homeless.”