Monday, April 19, 2021
Uncategorized Where will the Division Street homeless go?

Where will the Division Street homeless go?

The mayor orders the tents swept away. But there's no room in the shelters, so where are people supposed to live?


As if moving them under the bridge, away from public view wasn’t enough, San Francisco health officials declared homeless tents a health hazard yesterday, giving the homeless a 72-hour ultimatum to pick up and leave. Earlier Tuesday afternoon, San Francisco Department of Public Works along with San Francisco Police Department arrived at Division and Bryant street and began clearing tents from the sidewalks, dumping tents and belongings into garbage trucks.

Ashante Jones sits in his tent while Jeremy Harvell looks on
Ashante Jones sits in his tent while Jeremy Harvell looks on

The big problem: Nobody knows where the campers are going to go. Lisa Marie Alatorre of the Coalition on Homelessness noted: “There is simply nowhere for homeless people to go. They are sheltering themselves as best they can.” Although Mayor Ed Lee is touting a new shelter at Pier 80 as the answer, Alatorre explained that “When the sweeps took place Pier 80 was at capacity. Today it is adding 25 more beds.” Which won’t be anywhere near enough for the dozens of people living in tents on the streets.

Heather Brown, who spoke to 48 Hills a few weeks ago, is still in her camp on Division and Bryant. “The story we are being told is that they are pushing everyone who is here towards Third St. What they are doing now is instead of asking an individual person to move, they are coming through and almost treating these tents as homes and arresting those who have been warned and have not been taking care of their problems.”

Jones goes out and cleans the streets
Jones goes out and cleans the streets

So what are the problems that can cause an arrest? “They are saying it is because of the trash but we clean all the trash around us,” Brown said. “We also have street sweepers and most of us are part of the program because the city pays us to go and sweep the streets.” Brown and her fiance are trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities by moving two streets down, yet she knows that they will be chased out. “Eventually we will have nowhere to go” she said.

Ashante Jones, who has been homeless for the past five years, has been living in a tent at Division for the past two months. “We have been herded from Third Street all the way back down here, and I guess that wasn’t enough, so they are coming down here with the police and California Highway Patrol to harass us. The criminalization of the homeless is now in full effect,” Jones said he cleaned the sidewalk and his tent.

“It’s a mess, it is a mess. I don’t think the mayor is being held accountable.”

Jones is a songwriter from Oakland, and despite being homeless he has not given up his dream and passion for music. Inside his tent is a notebook in which he pens down lyrics. He said he believed San Francisco could give him an opportunity to get his life back on track. There are many more like Jones who do not want to give up on their dreams, who do not wish to live on the streets but are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. “It’s preposterous” he said about the growing homelessness in San Francisco and the government’s attempt to shove it under the carpet.

Jeremy Harvell has been homeless for more than five years and the struggle seems never ending. “With the food prices being more expensive than gas now, we barely have enough money to eat” Harvell said. “It’s not easy, it’s not easy at all. The police brutality and harassment doesn’t make it any easier. They are stealing people’s tents and running down the streets with them, who does that? They are destroying the community. It’s frustrating, really frustrating and it all builds up and then we start lashing out at each other,”

Harvell got injured during a fight. “There are aggressive people out here as well, there’s people who are out here because they want to be and then there are people out here because they have to be. The ones that want to be are usually the ones that are more aggressive, so I have to protect myself and I did and got injured.” Harvell’s wound got infected prompting a visit to the hospital.

Harvell and Jones’ tents are right beside SoMA StrEat park, while city authorities claim the homeless put businesses at risk. But business owners paint a different picture. Reilly Brock, public relations manager for SoMA StrEat park, said that the homeless should be treated with humanity “We are a business, we are a food park and ultimately we are not a homeless food service agency. But these are human beings we are talking about, we have to acknowledge the humanity of the people out on the streets and we want to find a way to do our part,” he said. “We don’t know what the answer is but we must continue to ask questions, because ultimately people living on the streets are in no one’s interest, first and foremost for people who are living in tents.”

In the absence of public toilets, people keep popping up to use the toilet facilities at the food park “The majority of them stop by, a lot of them buy food. Every now and then there’s an outlier case where someone would make a mess or there are drugs involved but that’s a minority. Unfortunately, the minority will tend to get the coverage.”

For the folks who now have less than 72 hours to pack up and leave, the chase is never ending. “I watched them through a disabled veteran’s tent into the crusher,” Jones said. “Man, that shit is preposterous.”



Sana Saleem
Sana Saleem is a writer with a focus on social justice and human stories. She's member board of advisory for the Courage Foundation, Edward Snowden's legal defense fund.


  1. @ hiker_sf “Nobody can get a job if they can’t shower, have no capacity to wash their clothes, etc.”
    San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides with public access. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  2. Budget recommends force them out of city limits invalid judge saying those residing “encampments” problematic. If lose your housing due: “Ellis Act” matter MOHDC going assist the homeless along special housing needs. Forgotten have await new, “micro housing and BMR units for suppose 30,000 which due 2020? California fight renters rights think twice Ed Lee, is not nice going use regulations to clear. NAIOP and BOMA S.F class A office space 140 towers schedule for construction 2017-2024. Naïve believe those living in disparity there chose rejoice fight alternate means shelters using statistics majority income. Adamant to remain impartial of disparity rising rentals it’s hype making majority uptight. No delight in sight where is fight where divided Mission Bay and lower financial district awaiting new high rises rezoning neighborhoods. Ed you assume new “urban developments to enrich “NAIOP” residents have citizens rights going fight back! Clearing urban blight sack of affluent where is democratic elements no “socialism!

  3. Assuming one accepts the premise of 48 hills, with the poor, unfortunate homeless. What is the REAL long term solution suggestion? Homeless have been in SF and other urban areas for decades, what is the solution? Camping on property of others, and on streets, without plumbing etc. isnt going to fly. Short of pure socialism where we all pay for those who can’t get their act together, what’s the answer? In my view, it’s the Tough Love approach. Get it together or get out. Seems like some here feel Twitter or Developers or taxpayers need to be enablers to allow the perpetuation of this dysfunction. That ain’t gonna happen.

  4. Hypothetical question– can we agree that the encampments are a street scene populated by rampant drug use while also acknowledging that it’s also tragedy and a shame?

    It’s the same thing as the quote in the article about “people who are out here because they want to be and then there are people out here because they have to be.”

    Second hypothetical question– why is it wrong to consider the concerns of actual San Francisco residents?

    Third hypothetical– how many of the people in the Divsadero tent city were at one time residents of The Jungle at San Jose’s Coyote Creek? I’m guessing at least a couple.

  5. When did living on the street become viewed as a solution to living on the streets? Pretty much any alternative is a superior option, and I hope we haven’t lost perspective of that.

  6. Clearly City Hall are a bunch of fools, but has Sana Saleem ever written an article that wasn’t based on a false premise? Tent Cities weren’t created as a result of shelters getting filled to capacity.

    The question is if people should have the choice to live on the street. If it’s a right for someone (or now the city) to pitch a tent.

  7. Wrong legis.

    Kim 2.0 (the Roommate legis) is the one which can house these 6000-odd homeless individuals. I’ll bet Sabbie, Tim, Hiker and #Dave probably have space in their units, and including a homeless indiviaul or two wouldn’t break the Fire Code. Talk about Direct Action!

    And the good news is they won’t need showers, credit checks, or their landlords permission!

  8. I’m aware that it can be very difficult to break the cycle of homelessness/poverty, and that luck is a greater factor in outcomes than many of us realize. Under different circumstances, my past fuck-ups would have had much higher prices, as you say.

    Nonetheless, when discussing the currently needy, the question of what they are doing to improve their lives is necessarily intertwined with the issues of what resources and alternatives they have. I.e., the topic of this article — what alternatives exist to the public sidewalk space we’re in the process of taking away — is intertwined with the question of what the tent residents are doing to avail themselves of said alternatives.

    To wit, as showers and clothes-washing facilities are necessary to secure a job — and in fact they are basic human necessities — well, that’s why some of us think Pier 80 is a good (or at least better?) alternative to the tent encampments. It has those things, as well as intake for other services designed to help break the cycles of homelessness/poverty.

    No matter how someone ended up in a tent on the sidewalk — no matter who is to “blame” — some opportunity and some amount of effort applied to that opportunity are required to break those cycles. If Pier 80 is full, as recently reported, that’s one thing. That’s lack of opportunity, and as I’ve repeated, it’s unfair (to say nothing of pointless) to force people from their tent homes if they have nowhere else to go. But even when Pier 80 was relatively empty, authors on this site were railing against it. And now this article presents the stories of Jones and Harvell without even mentioning if they tried to go to Pier 80 (or anywhere else) instead of the sidewalk.

  9. Nobody can get a job if they can’t shower, have no capacity to wash their clothes, etc.

    That some find themselves on the street because of circumstances that may or may not have been the result of their choices in life is insidious. Bad credit because of medical expenses? Forget about getting a job where they do a credit-check. Arrest, conviction and jail time for marijuana use? Forget about getting a job that checks for these things.

    All I’m trying to say is that it isn’t that simple to escape poverty and homelessness.

    I’m sure there are some who we can ‘blame’ for being homeless. But I don’t know one person who didn’t make some bad choices in life. Most of us don’t pay such a high price for fucking-up.

  10. “You are ungenerous”

    I’m really not. Fully half my lengthy comment supported the position that forcing the campers out is unfair if they have no other options.

    Additionally, this article is entirely premised on the argument that these people have no better options than their current plight, but the parts about Jones (and Jeremy Harvell, for that matter) included zero discussion of his/their other options or what curtailed those options. And despite that, I *repeatedly* hedged my comments about Jones, stating that “We don’t know Jones’ full story,” that “so much of Jones’ personal story [is] left blank,” and that “I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s the story in front of me.” It could not be more clear that I’m trying to approach this topic with an open mind to what isn’t known, but you willfully ignore that.

    It’s reasonable to ask that an article about people with limited options describe how and why the people prominently featured in the article have limited options. As I said, the absence of such description is conspicuous.

    I want the helpless to be helped. I also want those who can help themselves to do so. These are not inconsistent positions.

  11. sarcasm filter on…they will go into all the new affordable homes created by Jane Kim’s 25% inclusionary ordinance of course!!! sarcasm filter off

  12. Well, considering that the city gets a huge amount of its taxes from real estate, the employee of said tech companies are already paying huge taxes. And is $32,000 per homeless person a year enough? Sorry, but London, NYC, and other cities in the are expensive. If food is expensive here in SF, then leave. Rather than spending the $250 million a year, there should be options for getting these people to a place they can afford.

  13. You are ungenerous. There are a few words written about Mr. Jones and yet you want to assume that he could be doing something else based upon what isn’t written. I bet there are others in that encampment who do crosswords puzzles or even play chess.

    Given your creative imagination (and that is a compliment), how about thinking about some solutions?

  14. The hanger at Pier 80 may be full (or not). But there is a huge paved area in front of the hanger, where the boat used to be kept. And it seems like that area could easily contain dozens (hundreds?) of tents. Of course, other facilities (toilets, food, etc) may be constrained at Pier 80. But that staging area/parking lot would be no more deprived than Division St.

  15. Your sarcasm isn’t helpful. My comment didn’t mention tech and didn’t blithely suggest Jones could simply choose an easy or luxurious life.

    Many (most?) homeless people are homeless at least in part because of major circumstances that were beyond their control. That no such factors are mentioned about Jones — while his songwriting is — is conspicuous.

  16. I don’t know why Jones doesn’t get a job in the tech sector. And if he bought an Audi, he could sleep inside it, instead of a tent.

    He has so many options and yet, he chooses to live on the street.

  17. I fundamentally agree that cleaning out the tent encampments is problematic if the people in them have no alternatives. And of course, the primary alternative we think of is a city-run or city-approved shelter. So if there’s no room in the shelters then that’s significant, no matter how problematic the tent encampments are more broadly.

    That said, this story highlights how that simple if/then narrative breaks down. “Ashante Jones, who has been homeless for the past five years, has been living in a tent at Division for the past two months. . . . Jones is a songwriter from Oakland, and despite being homeless he has not given up his dream and passion for music.”

    We don’t know Jones’ full story. We aren’t told if Jones has a steady day job and pens songs in his spare time; if he used to have a home in SF / Oakland but got priced out; if there were any factors beyond his control which contributed to his current homelessness in any way.

    With so much of Jones’ personal story left blank, all we’re left with appears to be a story of Jones being committed to pursuing a vocation that is known to be financially viable for almost nobody, regardless where they live. And that Jones is here in San Francisco, despite being from Oakland. And he’s been homeless for five years now.

    That’s a story of him *choosing* to write songs in his tent on the public sidewalk instead of doing something else, anywhere, to put a roof over his head. Again, I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s the story in front of me. And as I said to start, “forcing people in the tent encampments is problematic if they have no alternatives.” This story reads as if Jones has alternatives.

  18. Here’s an idea – instead of giving tech companies raking in millions and billions “tax incentives” to tear down the city and its economy, howzabout we tax the shit out of them and then use that money for the good of the people they’re screwing in the city they’re occupying? And can we do this PDQ, since it looks like another tech bust is just around the corner? BTW, I for one will have absolutely NO problem treating future unemployed techies with the same lack of compassion said techies currently exhibit to the “riff raff” they have to deal with on the streets now. Does that make me a “hypocrite”? I really don’t give a flying fuck.

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