By Colleen Rivecca, HANC President
During the month of March, volunteers from the Coalition on Homelessness conducted outreach to homeless people in Buena Vista Park (from now on, I'll refer to them as "park dwellers") to talk about neighborhood concerns with the park and with homelessness and to understand park dwellers' needs.
Here is a summary of what they learned from and about the park dwellers:
- Park dwellers who spoke to volunteers from the Coalition on Homelessness said that they want to meet with neighbors about park issues and that they want to respect the park.
- Park dwellers are looking for an escape from poverty and homelessness, and many expressed the desire for employment, especially in helping keep the park clean and maintained. Some of the park dwellers said that they'e be interested in working with neighbors to help clean up the park even if they weren't getting paid to do it.
- Park dwellers are frustrated with the removal of garbage cans from the park.
- Lack of bathroom facilities is a major challenge for park dwellers, who are frustrated about the human waste in the park. With the closure of the bathrooms in the Panhandle and the loss of the drop-in space at Homeless Youth Alliance, it can be very difficult for homeless people to find a place to go to the bathroom in the neighborhood.
- Park dwellers said that they understand that people in the neighborhood don't want them to be in the park. The problem, from their perspective, is that people don't want them anywhere.
- Park dwellers consider the people who live near Buena Vista park to be "their neighbors" and they are interested in talking to neighbors about how they can work together to make the park a safer and better place.
It seems like a logical next step would be to set up a meeting between the housed and homeless neighbors so that they can talk further about park issues and how to solve them together.
On a related note, San Francisco has just started keeping track of requests for shelter beds with an online wait list, which is available at this 311 website. As of the writing of this article, there are 661 homeless people who have requested shelter who are on the wait list for a bed. That's right. 661 people who have no where else to go and want to be able to stay in shelter are waiting for a shelter bed to become available. Where are they waiting? Until San Francisco can provide basic shelter for the people who need it, we are always going to see homeless people outside.