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SF DMV Homeless Encampment Disappeared
by Michael Steinberg (blackrainpress [at] hotmail.com)
Friday Aug 28th, 2020 11:10 PM
A homeless encampment adjacent to the SF Department of Motor Vehicles that had been going on for 6 months vanished at the end of August.
I first heard about this scene in early March. Since it was in my neighborhood and I'm a veteran housing activist (SF Tenants Union, Homes Not Jails) I decided to check it out.

What I found was a bunch of folks in tents set up on the sidewalks next to chain link fences bordering the DMV on Broderick and Oak streets. At the time the DMV was still closed because of the pandemic.

A single hose snaked thru the fence to provide water for the campers. Besides that there were no visible means of support for the people. I counted about 20 tents along the two streets.

The next day I came back with multiple bags of potato chips to pass out, figuring folks would enjoy treats. They went fast. I talked to some residents on my way, two getting water and another in a tent he was sharing with a friend next to the constant traffic on Oak near the Panhandle. He told me he felt OK physically but was experiencing mental distress from being in such a disorienting situation.

After that I started coming by about once a week to distribute food, water, and other essentials like masks and hand sanitizer donated by my comrades at the Purple Rose Collective.

The weeks of visiting turned into months. After a while I noticed more tents near the DMV entrance on Baker Street. When I was around most people would be in their tents, some working on their bikes or cleaning up in their area.

It wasn't long before the DMV reopened and the hose disappeared, No other supportive services appeared.

Some time later I heard that the former parking lot at McDonald's on Haight was being turned into a "Safe Sleeping Space" with room for 40 tents.for community campers. I went by to see what it was all about. As at the DMV the lot was surrounded with fencing, but it was covered so you couldn't see in. There was supposed to be food, water showers and other supportive services for people staying there. I found a gap where I could peek in. A few folks were moseying around. I wondered if they could come and go as they wanted. A sign over one blocked off entrance read, "Private, No Media."

It was sometime in July when I stopped by the DMV site and all the tents and people on Broderick were gone.

Where they had been were metal barriers like the ones cops use for "crowd control" reading Dept of Public Works and No Lodging. I hoped they'd made it over to the "Safe" spot.

Everybody on Oak Street was still there though, seeming proud to be holding out despite the incessant auto exhaust, where at least they could run their own lives.. Meanwhile tent colony on Baker kept growing until there were still 20 tents around the DMV.

Towards the end of August I came over and everyone on Oak was gone too, replaced by the harsh metal DPH barriers. Who knows where they went. I think its something like Woody Guthrie sang all those years ago, "They come with the dust, and they're gone with the wind."
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Campers disappeared on Baker St. tooMichael SteinbergMonday Aug 31st, 2020 12:15 AM
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