|There IS a difference between the hippies and the homeless |
Garrison Keiller once had a great joke on "Prairie Home Companion" about a Lake Wobegon driver who, spotting a a jogger on the road, stopped to ask if she needed a ride.
Keillor knew there was great comic potential in the naive attempt to relieve people of an uncomfortable, yet self-inflicted activity. Incidentally, this is also the city's reaction toward the OccupySF protesters
camped out at Justin Herman Plaza. Among the city officials making daily inspections, the Homeless Outreach Team
arrives four times a day to offer shelter to the protesters.
That begs the question: Are these protesters really homeless or do they just appear that way since they are camped out amid used blankets, cardboard, and donated meals?
Department of Public Health spokeswoman Eileen Shields sounded very sincere when she told us, "a group like OccupySF is going to attract a lot of people who live on the street. Even if they're not homeless -- if they're just marginally housed -- we want to make sure people are aware of what's available to them other than camping out at the Embarcadero. I was there Friday and it's an interesting group."
A communications team member from OccupySF who identifies as Peter, says the HOT Team is mostly focusing on "people they have a case history with," meaning people who are actually homeless, not just activists choosing to live that way. "As for the campers, this is everyone's home for our time here. I think I can say that whenever people are asked about the homeless, they feel that way here."
To the city, the demographic distinction between a homeless resident and a protester doesn't seem to be relevant. As long as they are living in tents on the street, they are homeless -- at least for now, according to the city. "OccupySF is no different than any other group out on the street, that's what makes them a target for our services," Shields tells us.
She added that along with housing options, the outreach workers are also checking up on their health and safety. So far, she says, nobody has accepted the help. But Peter from OccupySF says that a few have taken up the city on a bed for the night. Others have chosen to stay outside.