Black San Franciscans will Become History Unless We Stop Displacing Them

by Olivia Glowacki

Black people make up less than 6 percent of San Francisco’s general population and 34 percent of the city’s homeless population, according to the 2017 San Francisco Homeless Count & Survey. Other sources put the percentage of homeless families who are Black at 50 percent and this number has been on the rise since the 1980s. While gentrification and greed grow, San Franciscans who were born, raised, and now raise their children here, are being pushed out to surrounding areas of Alameda, Oakland, and even as far as Sacramento. These folks go to school here, work here, and have seen the city change as a result of capitalistic gain. As housing is and continues to be scarce and the term “affordable” housing means $4,000 rent per month which only the rich can afford, Black folks are being displaced from San Francisco at astronomical rates.

The city will argue housing subsidies and vouchers counteract this displacement, but this is far from the truth. San Francisco resident of 15 years, Sophia Thibodaux, knows firsthand what it is like to face displacement as an African-American homeless mother. After receiving a $1,900 housing voucher, she was excited to finally move into stable housing for her and her two children. “They set me up,” Sophia said, “They gave me a measly voucher and there’s no way I could even afford a studio with it- even if I found a landlord who would take it.” This voucher seems like a golden ticket to those who don’t rely on them for housing. In reality, vouchers are often too small to afford even the cheapest studio and don’t last long enough to keep the individual or family housed. Moreover, landlords often reject housing subsidies and vouchers, so even if you get a voucher, many places refuse to take them. These compounded barriers make it so homeless folks end up back in the revolving door of emergency shelters, transitional housing, or back on the streets.

Others will also argue the city has a plethora of adequately funded social services, programs, and nonprofits, but that is far from the truth. While there are over 70 nonprofits in San Francisco that are focused on homeless relief, these organizations are often grossly underfunded, understaffed, and riddled with broken amenities like faulty washers and dryers, bed bugs, and disrespectful staff. While many of these nonprofits exist in the Tenderloin in District 6, many tend to forget about the other homeless hotspot, the Bayview in District 10. The 2017 Point in Time count logs 3,680 homeless folk in D6, and 1,275 in D10. These two districts account for 66 percent of the total homeless population in San Francisco, but there is a major disparity between access to services in the Tenderloin and in the Bayview. For more than a thousand homeless folks in Bayview, there is only one shelter, Providence. Mother Browns homeless folks can go for drop in and hot meal – but you can not sleep there.  Providence offers a mat on the ground, as well as a stringent curfew to enter and exit the shelter. Although the services are not ideal and often lack dignified resources, Providence fills with 125 folks for the night, and the rest who are not lucky enough to reserve a bed, are back out on the streets.

Tracey Mixon, a San Francisco native, born and raised in the city, is a single Black mom experiencing homelessness. She has family and connections in Bayview but currently lives in a shelter in the Tenderloin. Before she had her child, Tracey was bouncing from SRO to SRO every 28 days all around the Tenderloin and in Sunnydale. Tracey has been homeless for 22 years and her daughter, Maliya, has been homeless for all 8 years she’s been alive.

Tracey and her daughter have a very close relationship: “It’s me and her against the world,” she explained.

Tracey makes sacrifices so that Maiya can go to private school in the city and get the best education possible. Her daughter, in third grade, already reads at a sixth grade level and talking to her, you would expect her to be years older than she is. They both reside in a shelter now where they’ve been staying at for five months already. While they’re thankful to have a place to rest their heads at night, finding permanent, stable housing is near impossible and the staff at the shelter have not been helpful in identifying places.

“The only options they give me are all over California, not in the Bay Area, and at market-rate housing,” she explained.

Tracey said the shelter staff have tried to displace her to San Bernardino and San Joaquin but her work, Maliya’s school, family medical care, connections, and friends are all in San Francisco. Moving would mean Tracey and Maliya would lose these valuable connections, Maliya would have to adjust to a new school despite her excelling in her current school, and a transportation for commutes to the city would be an added expense to the family budget.

What Tracey has been told from shelter staff is unfortunately common. Lots of folks here, especially brown and black folks, have a history of being displaced. From 1970 to 2010, San Francisco’s African-American population has decreased 50 percent and the Fillmore neighborhood, which was once called the “Harlem of the West,” is now a white-washed, gentrified home to techies and other outsiders. Both sides of Tracey’s family have roots in the Fillmore and Tracey’s mom knew Etta James when she performed and toured around the neighborhood. Currently, only a handful of Tracey’s relatives can afford to live in the Fillmore while most of her family has been displaced beginning in the early 1980s. Her grandmother was displaced to Oakland and other folks were moved out of their family homes under the guise of “renovation” and got priced out when they returned, ultimately displacing them out of San Francisco.

Tracey summarizes, “San Francisco doesn’t want families of color or poor people living here.” She’s seen firsthand how her family has been displaced out of the historically Black neighborhood and is experiencing the threat of displacement now. It is clear that unless actions are taken to support our unhoused neighbors, especially our African-American ones, Black families will become history in San Francisco.