In the heart of San Francisco, the homeless encampments have become a battleground at the center of a fight between city officials and advocates for the homeless. Here’s the full story.
Former Art Teacher Found Himself Living in a Tent
52-year-old Toro Castaño is a former art teacher who found himself living in a tent on the streets of San Francisco’s affluent Castro District after losing his job.
“It’s Safest Here”
He has been assured by police that he won’t be removed from this spot like he has been before. Castaño says, “It’s safest here.”
Business Owners and Residents Are Upset
The small homeless encampment at the corner of Market and Castro streets in San Francisco has area business owners and residents upset.
The City Is Barred From Doing Anything
They want the streets in front of their businesses and homes cleaned up, but the city is barred from doing so under a preliminary injunction issued by a judge.
Homeless Community Is Protected
Castaño is a plaintiff in the lawsuit that prevents the city from removing homeless encampments without providing shelter. The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the city to put their resources towards building more housing and shelter opportunities for the homeless.
Not Enough Shelters
The city said they do provide access to shelters, but waiting lists are long to get in. They have roughly 3,000 beds available and 7,000 people asking for one. There isn’t enough space for the entire homeless population in the city of San Francisco.
Homeless Are Refusing Housing
Business owners in the Castro District say Castaño has turned down housing offers from the city.
These Homeless People Are Protected by the Injunction
Mayor London Breed said, “people who refuse housing shouldn’t be allowed to remain on the street.” However, these homeless people are protected by the injunction.
The Street Is the Best Place for Him
Castaño became homeless in 2019 after losing his job. He chose to return to living on the street because “it was the best place” for him and said that’s where he will stay until the city offers him a viable place to live.
He Lost Everything
In 2020, Castaño was woken up abruptly by four members of the city’s Special Homeless Outreach Team warning him the police and Department of Public Health were on their way to sweep the encampment.
“Bagged and Tagged”
He grabbed some of his personal belongings and was told the rest would be “bagged and tagged,” but hours later he watched as everything he owned was dumped into a garbage truck.
What He Lost Was Irreplaceable
The city deemed the things on the street “a fire hazard,” but Castaño says what he lost that day was “irreplaceable.” He lost around $10,000 worth of his belongings, including a MacBook Pro computer and a road bike.
He Settled With the City
The most painful items Castaño lost that day were the hundreds of photos and documents on his laptop, and his mother’s wedding kimono. He filed an administrative claim and settled with the city of San Francisco for about $9,000.
The Homeless Coalition Is Making Things Worse
One business owner in the Castro District says he doesn’t blame the city for the homeless encampment problem. He blames the person and the homeless coalition saying, “they are the ones making things worse.”
Tired of Tent-Lined Streets
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman feels for the business owners and knows they are “tired of walking down tent-lined streets.”
People Have Returned to the Streets
Mandelman once praised the city’s successful efforts to get many homeless people off the streets of the Castro district, but those people have returned to the street.
The City’s Hands Are Tied
Mandelman also blames the injunction passed by the judge for “kneecapping the city’s ability to continue to do the work of getting people off the street.”
The City Argued Against the Injunction
The city of San Francisco argued against the injunction saying that there was a lack of shelters and that’s no basis for a citywide order protecting the homeless community.
They Would Rather Sleep on the Street
The city asked the court to consider that nearly half of all homeless people who were offered housing refused it. The community is frustrated with homeless people who won’t accept the assistance and would rather sleep on the street.
He Feels Like a Protected Resident
Castaño said the injunction makes him feel like a protected resident of the city. At least temporarily, his personal safety and property are protected by the law.
It’s Hard to Stay Sane on the Street
Castaño said, “I use a lot of humor to stay sane. It’s hard to absorb so much hatred. I used aesthetics and art and funny things to try and resist it, but sometimes all I can feel is pure rage.”
At the end of the day, he just wants to be treated like a human being.
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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Scharfsinn. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.