SAN FRANCISCO – When a million people descend on San Francisco for the Super Bowl, they can see a performance by Alicia Keys, a fireworks display and art by local artists. What they won’t see much of are homeless people.
In recent weeks, San Francisco has sent workers to Embarcadero to help the homeless find shelter somewhere other than Super Bowl City. The free fan village will feature concerts, interactive games and player appearances at the foot of Market Street across from the Ferry Building, and will be among the main images broadcast of San Francisco. If the city’s plan succeeds, the homeless will head to shelters where they can connect with social services.
“When a lot of cameras are going to be pointed on the city, they want to have an image of the city that does not include poverty,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director at the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness. “They want to decrease the physical presence and reminder of poverty and create an illusion that poverty does not exist.”
Homelessness in San Francisco is a persistent problem that’s worsened as a technology boom drawing thousands of well-paid workers has inflated housing costs to some of the highest in the U.S. The city now has the eighth-worst homeless rate in the nation.
Starting Jan. 30, access to the site will be controlled through four airport-style security checkpoints, including bag checks. CBS will broadcast from the village, which is near a pier where 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot last year. Police charged a homeless immigrant in her killing.
“There will be more street teams going out to assist people who don’t have a place to stay so that they can be safely cared for,” David Perry, the Super Bowl host committee’s head of public engagement, said at a community meeting. “San Francisco is also committed to making sure that the experience for Super Bowl is safe, secure and sanitary.”
Supervisor Jane Kim said the message she got from Mayor Ed Lee’s office is that the city is specifically targeting the site for homeless services because of the Super Bowl. Kim criticized the city’s estimated $5 million cost to provide support, including additional police, saying taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for a corporate marketing event.
The game will be Feb. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, 37 miles south of the city.
“We should be making sure that we’re delivering services throughout the city, not just because of a special event,” Kim said. “Specifically, to hide an issue for tourists and visitors that are coming in — we should be providing this type of compassionate, strategic approach all the time.”
Rachael Kagan, spokeswoman for the city health department, said workers haven’t urged the homeless at the fan village site to leave.
“The homeless outreach team staff informed homeless people in that area that the event will be coming there, that there will be construction, road closures and crowds,” Kagan said. “It will be very different than usual for the next few weeks, and the team made sure that the people who live there are aware of that.”
Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for Lee, said homeless people are being approached at the festival site with offers of shelter because of the winter weather, a citywide effort that includes adding 1,100 beds at emergency shelters. Falvey denied the city is specifically targeting the homeless around Justin Herman Plaza, the heart of the future village.
“It’s associated with cold, wet winter,” Falvey said. “It is dangerous and unhealthy to live on our streets.”