On a daily basis, an estimated 2,000 pounds of “trash, human waste and hypodermic needles” are removed from the homeless encampments around San Francisco. These are the tent cities that form the backdrop to the monstrous spectacle of decadence that is Super Bowl week in the Bay Area.
Last August, San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee made clear that a cleansing of the homeless would take place before the Super Bowl, saying, “They are going to have to leave. We’ll give you an alternative, we are always going to be supportive, but you are going to have to leave the streets.” Currently, there is no evidence of widespread mass-sweeps. But according to several Bay Area homeless rights activists and social workers with whom I spoke, it seems that when the cameras are on, the city cleans up trash. When the cameras are off, the city cleans up people, whom the San Francisco Police Department treat as if they are equally disposable.
As private planes engage in the yearly Super Bowl ritual of fighting for space at area airports, they will be entering a city that serves as a macrocosm of both the excesses of the big game and the human cost to be paid by many of the players we will be cheering on the field. While the city is having another of its periodic real-estate booms, creating the most expensive housing market in the nation—with a minuscule one-bedroom apartments going for $3,500 a month—the number of homeless in San Francisco is staggering. In a city with an official population of about 800,000, there are from 7,000 to 10,000 homeless. As Jessica Hanson Weaver, a social worker who works in the largest of the San Francisco homeless shelters, said to me, “That number goes up and down depending on variety of factors. It includes youth, families, and adults in shelters, and also those in streets, living in parks, or in the care of hospitals.”
It is certainly true that one cannot blame the current mission-creep subtle-sweep of the homeless solely on the Super Bowl. That’s because for Mayor Ed Lee the crackdown on the homeless is not a Super Bowl phenomenon but a year-round game. In 2015, the police of San Francisco handed out roughly 2,300 citations a month to homeless people. That’s 77 every day. These citations lead to arrest, which leads to warehousing people behind bars instead of confronting the near total absence of affordable housing. The greatest sin in all of this is that 61 percent of the homeless lost their homes while still employed. There is just nowhere to live.