The Bay Citizen wrote today that San Francisco's homeless czar, Dariush Kayhan, has been overstating the number of homeless people who lived at the Transbay Terminal before it was closed in August for demolition. The article states he'd told two news outlets -- the Chronicle in a February article and the Bay Citizen itself -- that the city had moved 88 people into temporary housing or shelter.
For the cover story, "Terminal People,"
we tramped the pavement for more than a week prior to the closing of
the terminal, talking to every homeless person who didn't scream at us to
go away, asking about their plans. We stayed until
2 a.m. on the night of the closing to see what happened to the last of the lingerers.
We followed three main characters, and caught up with many
other of the terminal's former dwellers for about a month after the
closure. We found out what happened to those who decided to take the city up on its offer to put them in a room -- and to those who refused help of any kind.
Admittedly, our reporting was anecdotal, and we relied on the city for numbers -- as all other media outlets have. But we think we can add a little bit of perspective to this debate about
what happened in the mad dash to house the terminal's homeless residents:
found: "The city has repeatedly misstated that 88 people, the majority
of the Transbay homeless, received housing or shelter. Internal records
show the official number was just 48."
September, we got our numbers from Rajesh Parekh, the director with SF FIRST, a multidepartamental program that works to put the chronically homeless into shelters. He said 49 people
opted to move inside before the
terminal closed. That's just one off from the 48 number the Bay Citizen found.
the effort to get some of the homeless indoors didn't stop then, with
the city's Homeless Outreach Team continuing to try to help those who scattered
after the terminal closed. By mid-September, Parev told us the number of people
who'd moved into shelters or hotel rooms grew to approximately 65 --
roughly half of those who regularly stayed in or around the
reporting, the short stay usually was mostly because a vast majority of the placements were at homeless shelters, not hotel
rooms. In fact, the city told us only 17 people
had been able to move into hotel rooms known as "stabilization units."
Parev said it simply didn't have that many openings in its then-stock of 236 hotel rooms; 10 of those 17 rooms had been bought a few days before the closure using money scraped together by the DPH.
The other 32 people who went indoors went into shelters. A shelter is, by its very nature, temporary, and SF Weekly
witnessed many homeless flat-out refuse the city's offer to go into shelters because of all the rules. Others would
go for a couple of days, get frustrated, and move back to the
details, death is nothing new in the hotel rooms offered by the city to homeless people while attempting to get them into more permanent housing. Parev told us that five people had died of various health issues in the stabilization rooms in 2010 before
the September publication date. In fact, a member of the Homeless Outreach Team is instructed to
open the door to the room if nobody answers for that very reason.
We see the Transbay conundrum from both sides. There was definitely a dog-and-pony show element
to then-Mayor Gavin Newsom's response -- inviting a Chron reporter for a walk through the terminal as he knelt by the homeless and kindly asked them to go indoors (an event SF Weekly crashed). Newsom, Kayhan, and others seemed hypersensitive about how the media would portray the city's response.
We also witnessed the Outreach Team doing their very best, especially in the
frenzied last few days before the closure, to get folks indoors. Several simply wouldn't budge. That includes the Santa-looking dude in the Bay Citizen's photo, who continued to camp under the eaves of the terminal even after it closed until it was demolished -- and apparently he is still there.
The more hardcore homeless left the Terminal weeks before construction to start encampments elsewhere. Many others waited until the last minute and
demanded a hotel room on the night of the closure. But it was too late -- the city claims it had no more rooms left.
And some who were placed in hotel rooms didn't stay. Many got bedbugs in the Baldwin House Hotel on Sixth Street. Another guy we interviewed absconded and bought himself a van that he now calls home.
Marty Christensen, a 20-year veteran homeless man who did get a hotel room from the city, returned to
the streets after the roof of his room caved in. He had no desire to move to the Baldwin, where the city offered to move him while his roof was fixed.
And to prove our point -- Christensen's own daughter found him earlier this year and offered him the opportunity to move back in with his family in the Central Valley. He even refused that deal, calling homelessness his way of life.
So when analyzing the figures how about considering this one: the number of homeless who will never leave the street, no matter how comfortable a bed you offer.
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