This Super Bowl will have it all: The hype, the halftime show, the fans. But not the army of homeless people
The city keeps a problem away from Super Bowl cameras “If you don’t have money, then you have to go and hide somewhere”
When visitors descend on San Francisco to revel in Super Bowl 50 festivities, they’ll be able to see a performance by Alicia Keys, a fireworks display, and works by local artists. What they won’t see, the organizers hope,
are many of the people who typically sleep outside along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street, where the city has set aside space for Super Bowl City, a free, family-friendly fan village. Opening on Jan. 30, it will feature stages where entertainers will appear, a Bud Light bar, and a waterfront wine-tasting lounge.
The weeklong event across from the city’s Ferry Building will be among the main images of San Francisco broadcast around the country by CBS, CNN, and the NFL Network, which will have anchors live at the site. (The Super Bowl itself takes place on Feb. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, about 40 miles south.) Starting on Jan. 30, access to the fan site will be controlled through four airport- style security checkpoints.
San Francisco has dispatched social workers to encourage regulars in the area to visit shelters and take advantage of other services. “We will be working more than usual, and 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 on Jan. 14. “San Francisco is also committed to making sure that the experience for the Super Bowl is safe, secure, and sanitary.” The committee is donating $13 million to antipoverty charities.
Homelessness in San Francisco is a persistent problem that’s worsened as the technology industry’s growth has drawn well-paid workers, inflating housing costs. With the eighthhighest rate of homelessness in the U.S., the city, once a haven for free spirits, has seen an explosion in complaints about encampments and requests to San Francisco Public Works to clean up feces, urine, and shopping carts. “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,” says Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco.
The city is spending $5 million on police overtime, transportation, and other costs associated with hosting the Super Bowl festival. Jane Kim, a member of the Board of Supervisors, who opposes spending city funds for a corporate event, says she was told by the mayor’s office that the area around the fan village was being targeted for homeless outreach. “We should be making sure that we’re delivering services throughout the city, not just because of a special event,” she says.
Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Lee, says the effort to direct people to shelters, where the city has added 1,100 beds, is because of the weather, not the Super Bowl. “It’s associated with cold, wet winter,” she says. “It is dangerous and unhealthy to live on our streets.” Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for the city’s health department, says her team has gone out of its way to explain the changes
the festival will bring. “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,” she says. “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.”
One homeless man standing near a bocce court that’s part of the village says he likes to come to the waterfront site for some sun but was already planning to go elsewhere once the event begins. “It’s for the people with money,” he says, declining to give his name. “If you don’t have money, then you have to go and hide somewhere, or the police will take you away.” �Alison Vekshin, with Jeran Wittenstein
The bottom line San Francisco is asking homeless residents along the Embarcadero to leave a Super Bowl festival site.