City Evicts, Bulldozes 'Box City' Homeless Encampment, To Advocates’ Dismay

Box City, a "transitional community" constructed with found materials near the Caltrain tracks at Seventh and Hubbell streets, was never meant to be permanent. 

As Hoodline reported in December, the idea behind the city, which was created with the support of the Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge (SFHC), was to provide otherwise homeless people with more stability and security than a traditional tent encampment.

By offering structures that were more solid than tents and some basic services, like a portable toilet and occasional trash pickup, Box City's organizers, including SFHC community liaison and former mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss, aimed to create a living space that was "less bad" for both residents and the surrounding community.

But last month, city agencies informed Box City residents that they would be evicted on January 10th—and despite this week's punishing winter storms, they followed through on their promise.

On the San Francisco Bayview blog, Coalition on Homelessness executive director Jennifer Friedenbach said that on early Tuesday morning, in the pouring rain, city workers bulldozed the pop-up community that once housed more than 30 people.

In an email to SFHC supporters, Amy Farah Weiss said that 20 of Box City's 31 former Box City residents were successfully moved into a Navigation Center.

Of the remaining residents, two were still attempting to work through the Navigation Center's intake process, six to eight relocated to "another location a few blocks away," and a few others were in the process of "leaving town for an opportunity in Northern California."

On Twitter, Jeff Kositsky—director of the city's Department of Homelessness & Supportive Housing (DHSH)—said that the Box City residents felt they were better off in the Navigation Center:

But while Kelley Cutler of the Coalition on Homelessness acknowledged the efforts of the city's Encampment Resolution Team to rehouse and otherwise assist some of Box City's residents, she noted that clearing Box City was still "a traumatizing experience for the people living there"—and that placement in a Navigation Center is no golden ticket.

"People living in the Box City encampment will get a 30-day respite, but that's just temporary," Cutler wrote on Facebook. "After an 'encampment resolution,' the city has been telling community members to contact SFPD if there is a re-encampment. So after 30 days, when people are discharged from the Nav Center and attempt to go back to where they had stayed before ... the cops will be called to stop them."

As for Box City's shelter structures, Weiss said DHSH agreed to store up to 10 of the encampment's shelter structures for up to 90 days at Pier 50 "to remove barriers for a 30-day stay at the Navigation Center." Additionally, "Everyone at Box City had the option of having their shelter stored and had ample notice to prepare for the move on Monday, but only 5 residents decided to move their shelter to storage."

Given that Public Works employees were not permitted to help move the structures, Weiss says she rented a truck and she, along with two volunteers, helped those residents relocate their shelters.

Despite taking credit for the "high percentage" of Box City residents moving into the Navigation Center, Weiss' email expressed disappointment in the city's resistance to partnering with the SFHC to pilot a transitional village.

"This is the only model that will significantly cut down on the safety and livability issues in our City's 75 DPW-identified encampments through an increase of accountability to and from encampment residents," she argued.

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