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Homeless in San Francisco

Video of 7th Street Homeless Encampment by Bob Simmons

"The foggy dampness had soaked through her tent. Again. The night chill had bit into her thin sleeping bag. Again. Outside her tent, a couple of neighbors had fought it out over a heroin baggie. Again.

And the next day, an army of San Francisco police and street cleaners was set to descend on Division Street to sweep away her tent and everything around it. So on Feb. 29, after two months of living under the roar of a freeway, 52-year-old Kathy Gray decided she’d had enough — she finally accepted the street counselors’ offer of shelter.

“I can’t take this anymore, and I don’t want to just be shoved away with all my stuff tossed,” Gray said as she jammed her moist clothes and few possessions into plastic bags for the move. “What I really need is a real place to live, but hey, I’ll try this shelter thing and we’ll see how it goes.”

Gray’s decision came nine months ago, after Mayor Ed Lee ordered the dismantling of a tent city that had spread beneath a mile-long overpass of Highway 101. Dozens of counselors from the city’s homeless outreach services intensified efforts to entice people into shelters before the city’s sweep, but not everyone joined Gray in accepting. Early on March 1, police and city crews arrived. By the end of the day, the messy spectacle of tents, tarps, garbage, open drug use and loud fights was gone.

Oscar McKinney struggles to push a cart along 13th Street on the way to a laundromat to wash his laundry in November. Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

Hundreds of the Division Street campers did go into shelters, into buildings with social services designed to keep them off the streets and into drug rehabilitation centers. Others accepted tickets for buses bound for former hometowns.

But not all of those destinations proved to be stable landing spots. And scores of other campers simply moved their tents a short distance away.

It’s a weary cycle that’s been repeated countless times over the past three decades as homelessness has become ingrained in the city’s identity: Camps are cleared and they come right back"

- S.F. Homeless Project, see the entire project HERE


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