Photographs by LeeAndrea Morton

Photographs by LeeAndrea Morton

Evidence of homeless emcampments near McKinley Square

January 2013

Homeless Encampment Persists at McKinley Square

By Leeandrea Morton

Behind McKinley Square a homeless encampment persists despite efforts to disband it. The campsites are located on a densely forested stretch of land from 19th to 22nd Street, nuzzled between Highway 101 and Vermont Street. “There are a lot of reasons that the homeless come here. The recycling centers, day labor jobs on Cesar Chavez, and the San Francisco Methadone Clinic,” said San Francisco Police Officer Sue Lavin-Mann, who has patrolled the Bayview District for ten years, and leads SFPD’s Homeless Encampments Division.

“There is one man that stays here. He doesn’t speak a word of English. I keep telling him, ‘You can’t stay here and we’re going to arrest you,’ but we can’t get through to him. He likes it here,” Lavin-Mann reported. Although the land is encapsulated by a fence behind McKinley Square and a wall along Vermont Street, vagrants find a way to enter. A man from Guatemala, found sleeping in his tent, claimed that he entered by jumping over the fence.

California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) staff regularly visit the encampment to clear debris, including wood, rope, tarps, and trash. “Caltrans comes to clean, they [the homeless] leave, then they come right back,” said Lavin-Mann.

In addition to its hidden nature, homeless are attracted to the site by nearby recycling centers, such as those operated by Recology South-of-Market, and the San Francisco Recycling Center in Bayview. These centers provide a way to generate income by sifting through garbage and exchanging found items – plastic containers, glass bottles, and copper – for cash, which is sometimes used to buy drugs. A clinic that dispenses methadone to those who abuse heroin and other opiates is also close by.

Late last year there were at least four individuals in three separate camps on the hillside to the east of McKinley Square. Of particular interest to Lavin-Mann were a father and son – age 23 – from Tennessee. The two are battling a heroin addiction. “We are looking for construction jobs. In Tennessee, we were welders. We are trying to get clean,” the 23-year old said. The pair stays on the hillside because of its easy access to Fort Help, a methadone clinic located in the Mission, using the footbridge that crosses Highway 101. According to Lavin-Mann, the most commonly used drugs among the homeless are methamphetamine and crack-cocaine, because they are inexpensive and easily made, with heroin third most popular.

Lavin-Mann recounted a hopeful story about a homeless man who felt deeply attached to the encampment. “When he finally warmed up to me, we got him into a shelter downtown. Most people don’t like shelters because they can be dangerous. He was beat up at the shelter, so he returned to this camp. Finally, we got him into a [permanent residency] room, and he loves it there. Now he only returns to the camp to visit,” said Lavin-Mann.

Homeless individuals become eligible for a permanent residency room when they enroll in General Assistance, a City and County program that provides $59 a month and places them into CalFresh, otherwise known as Food Stamps. Once they receive a room they qualify to receive $400 monthly. Lavin-Mann connects those seeking help with the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) – a collaboration between Community Awareness and Technical Services, Inc., San Francisco Department of Public Health, and the Human Services Agency – which offers support and care to chronically homeless individuals, helping them find permanent housing. “There are so many services available in San Francisco. If people really want help, they can get it,” Lavin-Mann said. “I try to get the people the help they need, but at the end of the day I am going to enforce the law.”

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