San Francisco’s decision to move more than 2,000 homeless people out of hotel rooms could drive many back onto the streets, leaving them as vulnerable to COVID-19 as they were when the temporary housing program was launched in the spring.
Mayor London Breed’s apparent toleration of an unsanctioned homeless encampment “sweep” by a corporate event company this month has led her critics to ask whether the policy of City Hall is to turn a blind eye to privatized harassment of people living on the streets. The sweep, which occurred just past midnight on the morning of Sept. 10 outside the old Honda dealership on 12th Street, resulted in the disposal of eight people’s belongings. Neither the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing nor the mayor’s office clearly rebuked the actions of the event company, Non Plus Ultra.
An unsanctioned sweep of a homeless encampment in central San Francisco has cost the event company Non Plus Ultra a big customer. The company rousted eight people in the middle of the night on Sept. 10, and – while city officials have largely remained silent – the action didn’t sit well with TechCrunch, which is renting Non Plus Ultra’s SVN West event space at Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue.
Non Plus Ultra, a company providing event space for TechCrunch’s Disrupt, an influential trade show for technology startups that began yesterday and typically draws thousands of attendees, conducted an independent sweep of a homeless tent encampment outside one of its San Francisco locations early this month.
When Mayor London Breed announced a strict shelter-in-place order on March 16 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, health facilities scrambled to identify ways to safely see patients. For addiction medicine doctors, this presented a particularly difficult challenge: Patients engaged in medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction must be seen frequently, often every few days. Regular doctor visits are not just helpful for people’s recovery but until that point had been required by the federal government for the dispensing of certain opioid addiction medications. As doctors across San Francisco switched to telehealth visits — talking to patients over the phone or through video chat — an unexpected shift took place. Missed appointments, a norm before the shelter-in-place order, became rare.
In late March, a cell phone video made by detainees was leaked to the public from Mesa Verde Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in Bakersfield, Calif. Dozens of men in orange jumpsuits walked past the camera while Charles Joseph read a petition. “Many of us have underlying medical issues,” he said. “This turns our detention into a death sentence, because this pandemic requires social distancing and that is impossible in this environment. We request that you give us parole or bond so we may return to our families.”
Joseph’s plea caught the attention of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, which joined a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and two law firms — Lakin & Wille, and Cooley LLP — seeking the release of detained immigrants with pre-existing health concerns.