Rain, Super Bowl shed light on Homelessness in the Haight

Aleah Jennings-Newhouse, Staff Writer

According to the San Francisco 2015 Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Survey, about 7,000 of San Francisco’s nearly 850,000 residents are homeless. But, depending on where you are in the city, homelessness might manifest itself differently. The homeless population is mostly concentrated in Districts 6 and 10, which span the central and south east of San Francisco. The Haight, which is in District 5, is home to over seven percent of the city’s homeless population. Recent circumstances, including periods of heavy rain and the effects of Super Bowl 50 on the city, have heightened the visibility of homelessness in the Haight as individuals need to find alternative places to stay.

The Urban School, as a community-oriented school located in an area with a substantial homeless population, holds a unique position in this situation. Katie Catassi, Urban’s facilities manager, described how over the past couple months people have been sleeping in the enclave outside of the Gumption theater. “I think it’s the rain,” Catassi said, as to why they gather there. Eric Tavisora, one of the school’s crossing guards, said, “When it rained, we got a lot more hiding underneath the doorways. Since the Super Bowl, (the city has) been getting them out” of the downtown area. Tavisora said that he has noticed a more significant change due to weather than the Super Bowl sweeps. JR, a street musician in the Haight, said, “I thought there would be an influx of shady people from downtown when they were moving people from there, but I didn’t really notice any changes.”

The school’s responsibility, according to Catassi, is primarily devoted to “the safety of the students.” In the mornings, Catassi said, Tavisora or Javier Lopez of Urban’s facilities and maintenance crew, “will tell them they have to move, and typically it takes them a while to gather all of their belongings and wake up.” Tavisora said, “Really, I just keep them away from the school. If they’re doing anything wrong, or they’re in the way, then really it’s part of my job to ask them to leave.” Catassi similarly noted, “During the day, if they’re sitting outside the school, I’ll just ask them to move on. It’s just if I know that they’re intoxicated,” she said, “then I’ll call the police.” Leslie Schaffer, school receptionist, said, “basically, I’m supposed to not let people into the building. People definitely wander in, who are clearly not mentally stable, and we have to nicely, but firmly, get them out of the building as quickly as possible.”

Both Catassi and Tavisora said that, when asked to leave, people are usually compliant. “A lot of them are nice, because I talk to them like any other person,” said Tavisora. “They actually told me that they appreciate that because they’re always getting yelled at or shooed away by the cops.”

Given that homeless people in the Haight are Urban’s neighbors, Tavisora expressed that the Urban community could change the way it interacts with them. “I think they deserve a little more respect than what they get,” he said. “I try to help them all … If there’s five people, I’ll give them five cups of coffee. I do the best I can, but I can’t really do anything further than that. Sometimes the school will have me kick them out, when it’s not even time yet, but usually I try to let them sleep until at least 7:30 before I get them out.”

JR commented on the changes he’d like to see, saying, “I wish that there were some sort of legal council that could be a liaison between myself and the police. Agencies like the police seem to be wanting to cause more problems than actually work things out.” As opposed to the current practices, JR said, “I wish there were some kind of storage facility. We’re all creative and so if somebody … had the space … That would be great.” He addressed services such as the Lava Mae mobile shower, saying, “It never comes up here. It would be better to come up with some solar or wind powered self cleaning bathroom. I’m in desperate need for any of those things that I was suggesting.”

Tavisora said, “Everybody should be treated nicer than what it is now.” “That’s for everybody,” he added, “not just Urban.”