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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Even as City Reportedly Dismantles Homeless Encampments, This Man Vows to Replace Tents

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 12:10 PM

  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner

This morning, a video posted on Facebook purportedly shows a clean-up crew from the Department of Public Works dismantling the homeless tent encampment on San Bruno Avenue. Jordan Buck, who posted the video, noted, “Everyone in the encampment on Division/13th is packing up their shit right now, they must have been threatened already.”

(SF Weekly contacted DPW for comment and will update the story if we get a response.)

The ever-growing tent cities have garnered much media attention (for example) and local hand-wringing lately, most recently from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who sent a letter to the heads of six city agencies calling for the tents to “go away.” (The timing of Wiener’s letter, just weeks before the Super Bowl with its hordes of camera-toting tourists and national news crews, is surely coincidental.)

“It’s not an acceptable state of affairs and we need to put an end to it in a very humane way,” Wiener wrote, prompting outrage from homeless advocates.

One of those advocates is Shaun Osburn, a graphic designer and former communications associate at St. Anthony Foundation.

“Wiener’s letter was very disingenuous,” Osburn says. “He knows that for every shelter bed in San Francisco, there are five homeless people. I’m not buying for a second that he is unaware of that.”

Osburn and a few of his friends, all of whom work in social services or have benefited from such agencies, watched in dismay as the 1,300 additional shelter beds the city promised to make available during El Niño never materialized — at least not in those numbers.

So, like any activist in the digital age, Osburn turned to crowdfunding. This morning, he launched a GoFundMe campaign, seeking $2,000 to buy and distribute tents for the city’s homeless. (He'd raised $135 at time of publication.)

Poor people make for such terrible B-Roll, you know. Under the marching orders of City Hall, the San Francisco Department of Public Works has begun confiscating the tents of homeless residents right before El Niño hits with another series of storms, leaving our vulnerable neighbors exposed to the elements. It is our hope to crowdfund replacement tents for the individuals who have lost their homes due to the heartless actions of local government. With some 3-4 person tents costing anywhere from $15-$20, it is our hope that we can replace 100 of these confiscated tents before the worst of the storms hit.

Osburn, who lives on 16th Street, says he’s watched DPW confiscate sleeping people’s belongings. Asked whether he worries that clean-up crews will also confiscate the new tents he distributes, he says, “No. It’s my property at that point, and I’m choosing to give it to someone.”

Temporary shelter is one thing, but Osburn wants City Hall to take responsibility for the impromptu encampments cropping up beneath overpasses. More shelter beds and 25 percent more below-market-rate housing on-site in new developments would be a “reasonable alternative,” he says.

Osburn’s pro-tent intervention is an unusual departure from many Mission and SoMa residents, who’ve watched the encampment with uneasiness — if not outright hostility.

“13th and Division was a safe space for a minute,” Osburn says. “It’s a part of town that’s traditionally been overlooked, and I think the homeless concentrated there because of safety in numbers. I agree that people shouldn’t be living in tents on the street, but that’s what we have, and the city is failing to offer a reasonable alternative.”

Update: DPW spokeswoman Rachel Gordon tells SF Weekly that this morning's clean-up was "routine," and that "no tents were taken down." According to her, DPW has performed regular clean-ups in hotspots around the city since January 2014. Needles, rotting food, and other debris are cleared, and pavements are steam-cleaned to remove urine and feces. "I know people are paying a lot of attention to these areas," Gordon says, "but for DPW it's just business as usual in terms of cleaning." 

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Jeremy Lybarger

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