Bad Tent Politics

The hundreds of homeless people who camped out underneath the US-101 overpass at 13th and Division streets presented city leaders with a problem. It also presented an opportunity: The city had its homeless problem concentrated in one place. Why not concentrate services there as well?

That would have been truly innovative, but turning Tent City into a miniature Navigation Center — the successful but limited model a few blocks away on Mission Street — seems to have been lost among all the talk about how much campers were pooping in the street (lost as well was any effort to, say, install portapotties for the six weeks Camp Lee was in place).

“They definitely should have had a plan for Division, with housing and accommodation,” says Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

Sam Dodge, the city's homeless czar, disagrees. Campers asked for one thing: “[A]ccess to shelter that could accommodate their pets, possessions, and partners, and had access to hot showers and hot meals, so that's what we did with Pier 80 for 180 people.”

And yet in the end, the city still had to clear Tent City with force, an armed police escort standing guard as work crews loaded tents (and 12 tons of stuff) into trucks. And the tents are still here — just scattered around the city again, in some cases just a block or two away from their old home underneath the freeway.

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