When you're living on the street, information is currency. Some homeless folks have phones, sure, but the data they're looking for isn't a quick Googling away. Where eat, where to sleep, and where to score are all important — and which shop owners aren't going to flip if they see a tent pitched outside even more so.
But what's currently on the minds of every dweller in San Francisco's Tent City, U.S.A. — centered underneath the US-101 overpass where South of Market and the Mission District meet — has been where they're going to be forced to next.
“Move anywhere between Folsom and Bryant, [police said]. Anywhere here, we're good,” said street resident Hoyt Walker, who's been documenting the city's recent response to homeless on his YouTube channel TheHoytShow.
Last summer, Mayor Ed Lee famously said that homeless people would have to “move” while the city welcomed Super Bowl 50 to town. Now that the Super Bowl is here, there's another problem: Tent City has become overly congested, dangerous, combustible.
“When it's spread out, it doesn't look bad,” Walker said. “They didn't really know how many people were out here.”
But now, the residents of Tent City can feel something else coming, a new plan in the works to push them even further out of the way before the approaching flood of Super Bowl tourists.
“Rumor has it the week before the Super Bowl, [Lee's] going to try to basically corral the homeless into some building down on embarcadero, one of the warehouses,” said Walker.
“We hear there's this tent down at Pier 80,” said Cheryl, six months into her San Francisco stay from Reno, two weeks shy of her 50th birthday. “I guess the NFL's paying for it, that's what I heard. So far, rumors have been right on.”
“I heard they're building a huge circus tent with nice comfortable beds, we can use drugs there, we can do this and that there, feed us their really good food,” said Katrina, a self-proclaimed “mama bear” of the tent life. “Just so we're out of the tourist eyes.”
Whenever you're dealing with a word-of-mouth telephone game, things are going to get purple-monkey-dishwater'd. But this plan of a Pier 80 tent keeps on coming up, over and over and over. So, what is this “indoor circus tent” everyone on the street's whispering about?
Most certainly, it's the 10,000 square-foot warehouse near Cesar Chavez and Third Street, the one with Oracle massively written across its side. (In 2013, Larry Ellison's Team Oracle USA used it to tinker with his boats for America's Cup.)
It was brought into the conversation a few weeks ago as a potential super-shelter in advance of El Niño's downpours. It is to be a 24-hour “low-threshold shelter,” meaning people can enter without formalities like registration.
Because the spacious non-insulated interior, a giant tent was built inside. It would, supposedly, house 150 people at a time. (Never mind, the city's 2015 homeless count shot past 6,600 people on the streets.)
But: “It has not opened up yet,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. “They're still trying to get the permitting through.”
And so, with the Big Game approaching, with Mayor Lee scrambling a hey-look-over-here routine to keep national cameras away from the most blatant symbols of the city's widening income gap, maybe it's time for a Hail Mary pass.
Maybe it's time to simply grab all that embarrassing refuse, ship it four miles south behind razor-wire fencing, and hope no one notices.
“I'm appalled at the city for even thinking of putting us in a chain gang or imprisoned tent setting,” said Katrina. “Next thing you know they're going to have guards standing out there with big old rifles.”
“That sounds like some German-Jewish occupation shit,” said Walker. “That's cold.”