Hundreds of San Francisco residents swarmed streets on Wednesday night to protest the city’s treatment of homeless residents around its hosting of Super Bowl 50 celebrations.
The protests were an outgrowth of Mayor Ed Lee’s August proclamation that the city’s homeless would have to leave the area hosting Super Bowl City, the pop-up “fan village” that blocked off portions of downtown, even though the actual game will be played at Levi’s Stadium, 45 miles away in Santa Clara. And in the days and weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, word swept through San Francisco that the city’s police have indeed been relocating homeless residents.
“The Super Bowl ended up being this lightning rod for people who were seeing all this money being thrown around and then people suffering on the streets … and getting really frustrated with that,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness, which helped organize a protest march on Wednesday. “That was what the protests came out of.”
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has disputed claims that police are pushing the homeless out, countering that they have provided “alternatives” after opening additional shelter spaces. But while homeless advocates say there is no definitive proof the city is sweeping the streets to remove unwanted residents, there is enough anecdotal evidence to at least make homeless people feel they are being targeted.
“We’re hearing over and over again that they feel like the police presence has increased and that they’re being told to move,” Friedenbach said. “It’s frequently being mentioned to folks that it’s because of the Super Bowl that they need to move. … From homeless people’s perspective, they feel like they are being displaced because of the Super Bowl.”
The protests, which involved homeless San Franciscans, advocacy group leaders and residents who oppose the city’s handling of the issue, are in part an outgrowth of the circumstances around the Super Bowl, and the fact that it will cost San Francisco taxpayers nearly $5 million in city funds.
From homeless people’s perspective, they feel like they are being displaced because of the Super Bowl.”
Lawmakers and advocates including Friedenbach say the money spent celebrating the NFL could be better used to fight homelessness, especially as rapidly rising housing prices put an increasing number of San Franciscans in precarious financial situations. There are 8,000 homeless households waiting for space in public housing to open up and just one shelter bed for every six of the city’s homeless residents, according to the Coalition. The latest survey of the city’s homeless, meanwhile, found that the number of homeless people increased by 3.8 percent in 2014, and that the amount of elderly and sick people without homes has grown, too. There are also more than 1,400 young adults aged 18 to 24 living on the city’s streets.
The money San Francisco is spending on Super Bowl City could cover a year of housing subsidies for 500 homeless people, Friedenbach said, or go toward subsidies to keep those at risk of becoming homeless — particularly low-income senior citizens — from losing their homes. It would be enough to fund two additional “navigation centers,” a pilot program that the city has used to help the homeless, she said.
Unlike Santa Clara, San Francisco city leaders did not secure a contract with the Super Bowl host committee to ensure the costs of providing extra law enforcement and other public services would be reimbursed, so it is paying the bills for a celebration of a private company — in this case, the NFL — whose own annual revenues outpace the city’s budget. To lawmakers like Jane Kim, who sits on San Francisco’s board of supervisors, that’s a poor reflection of the city’s priorities.
“We’re seeing an economic divide that is unprecedented in this city,” Kim said. “A lot of folks feel like if you’re not super wealthy, you can’t afford to live in San Francisco. And they expect that we should be using taxpayer dollars to solve these important issues…not to provide a party for some of the wealthiest people in the world.”
“The NFL should pay for their own party,” she added.
Super Bowl backers, including Lee, say the celebration will bring enough revenues to cover San Francisco’s costs, but Kim and many residents are skeptical — especially after the city emerged as a financial loser from hosting the America’s Cup sailing tournament in 2014 and because other recent Super Bowl hosts have finished in the red.
Source: More Fitness