PERSONAL FOUL: “UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS” CALLED ON MAYOR LEE
As the San Francisco Bay Area was hosting its second ever Super Bowl, thousands of tourists attended week long festivities in “Super Bowl City” a 10-acre temporary village at the foot of Market Street and the Embarcadero area that was shut down to traffic to accommodate visitors. San Franciscans resented not only the constant traffic jams but also the excessive presence of heavily armed police dressed in riot gear with automatic weapons slung across their shoulders, FBI agents, bomb-sniffing dogs and even snipers on the roofs of adjacent buildings leaving San Franciscans feeling with the sour taste of a Police State as the Department of Homeland Security classifies the Super Bowl as the second highest special event classifications following only presidential inaugurations.
Parallel to Super Bowl City there is what some San Franciscans call “Ed Lee City” (named after San Francisco’s Mayor) the half a mile tent-filled bottom edge of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, the newly-gentrified pocket where O.J. Simpson grew up. San Francisco Police Department has been conducting daily sweeps of the homeless people that live in these tents as a measure to curtail visible homelessness from tourists attending Super Bowl festivities – routinely, these police offers give citations to the homeless people they displace under the controversial “sit/lie” ordinance, which allows city police to cite people for sitting on the street. Sit/lie was largely intended as a legal tool to allow police to physically move homeless men and women off the streets and sidewalks. An estimated 11,000 citations were given to homeless for resting in SF last year because in gentrified San Francisco poverty is considered a crime; however criminalizing the right to rest in a city without adequate shelter space constitutes criminalizing homelessness itself, a violation of the Eighth Amendment. In addition, homeless people displaced from this area have reported illegal searches and confiscation of their property.
In spite of City officials’ efforts to deny that these sweeps are intended to hide San Francisco’s steadily growing homelessness population from tourists few San Franciscans can forget the message of Mayor Lee for homeless people camping along the Embarcadero: “They are going to have to leave.” A message that comes across as particularly harsh in the midst of El Niño’s storms, a message particularly irresponsible from a city that has proven to be inefficient in providing adequate shelter space for its homeless population. Typically a family waits for shelter for more then 6 months, there’s 1 shelter bed for every 6 homeless people, there are 8,000 homeless households on the waitlist for public housing and 3,300 children are homeless. Citations are on the increase for sleeping on the streets of San Francisco even though there are not currently viable alternatives for the thousands of unhoused residents in that situation. The Department of Justice released a memo in mid and late 2015 stating that it is ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ for cities to criminalize sleeping on the street when no viable alternatives are available. Currently, we have one shelter bed for every six people on the street.
CITY SPENDS $5 MILLION FOR SUPER BOWL
The City of San Francisco has been under fire for spending a reported $5 million of taxpayer funds on a Super Bowl that will be held in a different city 50 miles away. On the other hand, the National Football League (NFL) is reimbursing city of Santa Clara is an estimated $3.6 million in hosting costs.
“I don’t think the taxpayers should be used to subsidize a party for one of the wealthiest corporations in the world,” said Jane Kim, a San Francisco supervisor who last week, introduced legislation to renegotiate the city’s agreement to host the National Football League.
San Francisco is a city divided over gentrification, our communities have been severely hampered by sky-high housing prices and the technology industry’s influence on local government, a situation now aggravated by the use of taxpayer’s funds in the benefit of the NFL, a multibillionaire corporation, the world’s richest sports league that enjoys tax breaks, anti-trust exemptions, and has infiltrated our educational system to the point that many think accept the use of tax dollars to subsidize a multibillionaire corporation.
San Francisco is perhaps the most affluent city in the United States and spends about 2% of its total budget to address homelessness. The city is facing an unprecedented affordability crisis. This crisis is hitting the poorest families the hardest as they either struggle to maintain their housing, or in many instances have lost their housing and are struggling to exit homelessness contrasting with the influx of expensive restaurants, high-end stores and wealthy young tech workers who have displaced the low-income San Franciscans from their neighborhoods.
According to the city’s 2015 Homeless Count, 71 percent of San Francisco’s homeless were city residents before they became homeless (an increase from 61 percent in 2013), and 61 percent cite either high housing costs or lack of money to move as the reason for their homelessness. Meanwhile, the number of homeless people residing outdoors has risen, from 28 percent in 2011 to 46 percent in 2015.
In the meantime, 25% of the costs for Super Bowl ads would be enough to end homelessness in Sand Francisco (each 30-second Super Bowl ad costs 5 million). According to Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness the $5 million dollars spent by San Francisco’s City officials to host the Super Bowl would house approximately 500 homeless people for one year.
“You have a $5 million corporate giveaway to host this party, and that’s money that could have been used to house 500 homeless people for a year. It really puts a spotlight on the priorities of this city” Ms. Friedenbach said.
#TACKLEHOMELESSNESS DEMO CHALLENGES CITY
Under the hash tag of #tacklehomlessness, the Coalition on Homelessness, and Broke-Ass Stuart called for a protest in response of the use of public funds on behalf of corporate welfare. On Wednesday February 3rd several hundreds of protesters carrying signs, banners, cardboard cut-outs of houses and camping tents with messages denouncing the lack of effort by City officials to address homelessness gathered near the Ferry Building before the evening commute to draw attention to San Francisco’s homeless issue.
A large group of San Francisco police officers dressed in riot gear demanded to protesters to remove their tents, calling it an “illegal encampment.” The directive to keep the tents off the ground came as a surprise to homeless advocates who responded by holding the tents up for high for hours during the protest.
Protesters demands included for Mayor Ed Lee to pay and invest $5 million in housing to house at least 500 people immediately as well as the use of publicly-owned assets, such as the empty Pier 29 or 80, or the land under the Freeway at 101/César Chávez, and create monitored programs that support secure sleep, hygienic toileting, and access to transition/healing services.
In addition, protesters demanded an end to the criminalization of poverty and the continued violations of poor people’s civil and human rights highlighting that all resources currently being used for law enforcement of anti-homeless laws must be immediately re-directed to housing and support services.
Bilal Ali, a homeless member of the Coalition on Homelessness and former member of the Black Panthers passionately led the ceremonies. Among the speakers was former state Assemblyman and city Supervisor Tom Ammiano, “Some members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are trying to reclaim and redeem the moral soul of our City” Tom Ammiano, said “You’re treating the homeless like lepers!” Ammiano acknowledged the excessive presence of police officers in riot gear. “What are we, ISIS?” he said. “How many cops can we have? Who’s paying for that? What am I going to do, hit them with my purse? I’m so threatening, aren’t I?”
Supervisor David Campos said, “We cannot turn our backs on families struggling to feed their kids. We actually have to have a government that serves people, not the corporations.”
Around 7 p.m., the protesters began marching around Super Bowl City marched around Super Bowl City what many San Franciscans refer to as a “moral disaster area” before disassembling peacefully.
Other actions taking place in the Bay Area last week included: POOR Magazine WeSearch press conference and data release on impacts of Super Bowl Sweeps (http://poormagazine.org/node/5470) on Thursday January 28th, a joint march with the Mario Woods Coalition on Saturday, January 30th at Union Square and a procession from Civic Center to Super Bowl City on Saturday February 6th.
The confetti from Super Bowl 50 has fallen over the Bay Area; the celebrations are over leaving behind the estimated 7,000 homeless people living in San Francisco as the clear losers of this corporate event.