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SFPD plays Homeless “whack a mole” at the U.N. Plaza

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This week’s news highlights homelessness in San Francisco and Oakland and touches a little on the monstrosity of a hurricane barreling toward the Southeast coast. Let’s go…

SFPD plays “whack a mole” at the U.N. Plaza

You may have noticed an increased police presence down at the U.N. Plaza in the past few days. According to an SF Examiner report, that is part of Police Chief Bill Scott’s mission to reduce “bad behavior” in the public space that bustles with civic professionals, commuters, families with young children, hosted events and yes, the homeless. Scott said the Tenderloin Station has made 637 arrests so far this year in the vicinity of the plaza for “crimes ranging from public urination to drug dealing,” activities the chief hopes to dissuade with the recent addition of an onsite Mobile Command Center vehicle posted up off Market Street and increased patrols on foot, bicycles and motorcycles.

But, and there’s always a but when discussing crackdowns on homeless residents and drug users, where will people go when they’re discouraged (a.k.a. swept out) from finding respite at the plaza? We know there are not enough shelter beds to accommodate the city’s homeless population and that many people refuse shelters out of fear for  safety in those facilities or inability to follow the rigid rules regarding substance use, partners or animals. Cleaning up spaces areas to make the public happy sounds terrific and all, but what difference does it make when people just shuffle to another nearby space because they have nowhere else to go?

View of man sleeping at U.N. Plaza outside San Francisco City Hall. Photo courtesy of SF Gate

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It’s a practice Police Commission member John Hamasaki calls “whack a mole.” Although the chief seems to be cognisant of that underlying issue, the city itself still falls pathetically short of providing long-term solutions. Among other initiatives, it just might be time to revisit the idea of wet housing – it may make people uncomfortable to know there are drug users and alcoholics using inside housing shelters, but I can guarantee people are less comfortable finding needles at the park. Just sayin’.

Blaze displaces dozens at Oakland homeless encampment

The Village is an intentional homeless community at 2300 San Leandro Street in Oakland, a piece of property owned by the California Department of Transportation; however, several other encampments in nearby areas have been shut down over the past year. Like discussed in the previous story, when real human beings are “swept out” of their established communities, they have to find somewhere else to go. In this case, several people made their way to The Village, causing an overcrowding situation that led to Tuesday’s fire at the encampment.

According the East Bay Express, approximately 37 people were displaced due to damage caused by the fire – other reports indicate as many as 60 people may have been impacted. The fire broke at around 4 a.m. and destroyed one-third of the encampment. A little over three hours later, residents there were picking through what remained of their belongings.

A person walks on a homeless encampment known as ‘The Village’ after an early fire on the 2200 block of East 12th Street in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept . 11, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Although no injuries or fatalities were reported as caused by the fire itself, a body was later discovered in a tent nearby. The death appears unrelated as the body was found to be decomposing.

What remains of The Village is in limbo. CalTrans plans to use the property as a staging area for an upcoming bridge construction project and the encampment is searching for another empty lot to move to, so far unsuccessfully.

Holy Florence!

Hurricane Florence is about to bear down Thursday on the Carolinas and could substantially impact parts of Georgia and Virginia. The storm watch has been a roller coaster ride as the intensity has shifted during the trek toward land. What was once a Category 4 hurricane has been downgraded to a Category 2, but the slowing down has also caused the already massive storm to spread out and increase in size, threatening a larger portion of the southeast coastline. Mass mandatory evacuations have been underway over the course of the past few days, sending approximately one million people packing in search of higher and safer ground. The exodus from the North and South Carolina coastline is the largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history – some highways reversed traffic to allow more people to quickly drive out of areas in the impact zone.

What concerns officials is not so much the wind associated with the hurricane, but the resulting storm surge that could cause historic rainfall and flooding over a prolonged period of time due to the sheer enormity of the storm system and slowed movement. CNN reports that storm surges may reach up to 13 feet in height, the equivalent of a second story of a house.

Many residents from impacted areas have heeded warnings and evacuated, but there are some who refuse to leave, hoping to protect their properties and ride it out. If they’re still there by the time you read this, they are now on their own as highways have been closed and 911 services are no longer be available. For the people who choose to stay, that’s their right and we can only wish them the best of the luck in coming days as the eye moves over land, but there are some people stuck there without a choice in the matter.

Outer bands of Hurricane Florence visible from the coastline Thursday. Photo courtesy of ABC News

South Carolina officials have announced they will not move prisoners housed within mandatory evacuation areas, according the a BBC report. Some prisoners in North Carolina and Virginia have already been moved to safer facilities, but for those in South Carolina, the next few days could be harrowing to say the least. A similar decision was made during Hurricane Katrina, where prisoners in the Orleans Parish Prison were nearly abandoned in pitch darkness while some waded in flood water up to their waists.

But have no fear, Donald Trump says we’re totally ready to handle the impact of Hurricane Florence. In fact, the president thinks we’ve gotten pretty good at responding to these types of emergencies like the “unsung success” of disaster relief following Hurricane Maria, where approximately 3,000 people died due to the storm’s impact on clean water and infrastructure. So hey, the president’s got your back…or maybe not.

And while we’re all preoccupied watching the U.S. struggle with yet another natural disaster, there’s a Super Typhoon Mangkhut with strength equaling that of a Category 5 hurricane making its way to the Philippines and southern portions of China. Climate change? Crazy talk.

Weird shit to do on your day off

This weekend, maybe consider giving a little to those impacted by the stories we brought you this week. If you’re keen on helping the homeless population in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle provides a searchable directory of organizations you can donate or volunteer with. If helping the hurricane victims is more your speed, check out the Red Cross website dedicated to disaster relief specifically for Hurricane Florence.

Until next time, folks…good night and good luck!

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.