In the heart of San Francisco, the homeless encampments have become a battleground at the center of a fight between city officials and advocates for the homeless. Here’s the full story.
On the Streets After Losing His Job
52-year-old Toro Castaño, a former art teacher, found himself living in a tent on the streets of San Francisco’s affluent Castro District after losing his job.
Police have assured him that he won’t be removed from this spot like he has been before. Castaño says, “It’s safest here.”
The small homeless encampment at the corner of Market and Castro streets in San Francisco upsets business owners and residents.
They want the streets in front of their businesses and homes cleaned up. However, the city is barred from doing so under a preliminary injunction issued by a judge.
A Lawsuit To Provide More Opportunities for the Homeless
Castaño is a plaintiff in the lawsuit that prevents the city from removing homeless encampments without providing shelter.
The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the city to put its resources towards building more housing and shelter opportunities for the homeless.
The city said they do provide access to shelters, but waiting lists are long to get in. They have roughly 3,000 beds available, and 7,000 people asking for one.
There isn’t enough space for the entire homeless population in San Francisco.
“People Who Refuse Housing Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Remain on the Street”
Business owners in the Castro District say Castaño has turned down housing offers from the city.
Mayor London Breed said, “People who refuse housing shouldn’t be allowed to remain on the street.” However, these homeless people are protected by the injunction.
Castaño became homeless in 2019 after losing his job. He chose to return to living on the street because “it was the best place” for him, and he said that’s where he will stay until the city offers him a viable place to live.
In 2020, Castaño was woken up abruptly by four members of the city’s Special Homeless Outreach Team warning him that the police and Department of Public Health were on their way to sweep the encampment.
Personal Belongings Bagged and Tagged
He grabbed some of his personal belongings and was told the rest would be “bagged and tagged,” but hours later, he watched as everything he owned was dumped into a garbage truck.
The city deemed the things on the street “a fire hazard,” but Castaño says what he lost that day was “irreplaceable.” He lost around $10,000 worth of his belongings, including a MacBook Pro computer and a road bike.
The most painful items Castaño lost that day were the hundreds of photos and documents on his laptop and his mother’s wedding kimono.
He filed an administrative claim and settled with the city of San Francisco for about $9,000.
“Tired of Walking Down Tent-Lined Streets”
One business owner in the Castro District says he doesn’t blame the city for the homeless encampment problem. He blames the person and the homeless coalition, saying, “They are the ones making things worse.”
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman feels for the business owners and knows they are “tired of walking down tent-lined streets.”
Mandelman once praised the city’s successful efforts to get many homeless people off the streets of the Castro district. However, those people have returned to the street.
Mandelman also blames the injunction passed by the judge for “kneecapping the city’s ability to continue to do the work of getting people off the street.”
There Is a Lack of Shelters
The city of San Francisco argued against the injunction, saying there was a lack of shelters and that there is no basis for a citywide order protecting the homeless community.
The city asked the court to consider that nearly half of all homeless people who were offered housing refused it. The community is frustrated with homeless people who won’t accept the assistance and would rather sleep on the street.
Castaño said the injunction makes him feel like a protected city resident. The law protects at least temporarily his personal safety and property.
“I Use a Lot of Humor To Stay Sane. It’s Hard To Absorb So Much Hatred”
Castaño said, “I use a lot of humor to stay sane. It’s hard to absorb so much hatred. I used aesthetics and art and funny things to try and resist it, but sometimes all I can feel is pure rage.”
At the end of the day, he just wants to be treated like a human being.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.
Source: Apple News