Homeless Who Won't Leave the Street -- No Matter What
|Not just a number|
That figure appears to be a recent development; those are not the homeless numbers the city gave SF Weekly last fall. Though we are not cited in the Bay Citizen story, we published numbers much closer to the amount the Bay Citizen's analysis of "hundreds of pages of documents" discovered. And we don't have access to the Bay Citizen's trove, so perhaps it just depends how you're doing the math.
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:
- The Bay Citizen
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."
But 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 terminal.
- The Bay Citizen analysis found that for those who did receive help, shelter was provided for a short time -- only a few days -- in many cases.
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 streets.
- The Bay Citizen found that one woman had died while in the city's care.
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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