‘They’re cleaning up the homeless’: San Francisco prepares for the arrival of world leaders

(Port Daley/AP)

‘They’re cleaning up the homeless’: San Francisco prepares for the arrival of world leaders

California Politics

Queenie Wong

November 10, 2023

Jason Jacobs, crouched at the entrance to San Francisco City Hall, wiped gold paint on the ornate doorway of the Beaux-Arts building.

Whether I paint the gates or not, they will be breathtaking, said Jacobs, a San Francisco resident who often marvels at the stunning architecture.

Wet paint. Cleaning the street. Sweeping the homeless. Colorful art. Workers like Jacobs beautified the city, days before politicians, executives and journalists from around the world

descend upon

San Francisco for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference. By

Saturday to



On October 17, the international event is expected to bring more than 20,000 people to the city and attract thousands of demonstrators.

APEC consists of 21 member economies, including the US, China, Japan, Russia and Canada. The number of members is almost 50

% per cent

of world trade and 40

% per cent

of the world’s population, giving the U.S. a large platform to advance policies that promote free and open trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

A very

expected meeting between the president


Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit could also help ease tensions between the two countries.

The stakes are high for the US, but also for the US


San Francisco, where the APEC summit will be held for the first time. It is the largest gathering of world leaders


San Francisco since 1945


when representatives of fifty countries signed a charter establishing the United Nations.

The global spotlight will shine on a city of stark contrasts, home to billion-dollar tech companies and streets full of homeless encampments.

You can go to the deepest, darkest parts of the Tenderloin or you can go to the top of the Hyatt Regency, said Jacobs, a painter at City Hall.

Just steps from the Moscone Center, where the summit’s main events will take place, Christie Palominos was sorting through her belongings. Palominos said she is trying to figure out what she wants to keep before moving into permanent housing. Piles of clothes, a shopping cart, bags, coloring books and all kinds of objects surround her.

Palominos, 47, didn’t know there would be world leaders in the city, but she said one of her homeless friends has been asked to move several times by the same police officer.

They clean up after the homeless because they don’t want them to see this, she said.

Struggling with family issues, drug addiction and mental health issues, Palominos says she has been bouncing between homeless shelters in San Francisco for more than a year. It is not easy for homeless people to find a place in a shelter.

Usually I stay as long as I can, but it’s kind of hard because there are certain people who bully you. They think they’re better than you, said Palominos, who has a bruise under her eye and a bandage wrapped around a bloody finger.

Palominos said she has seen traumatic acts of violence on the streets, such as shootings and stabbings. Palominos is struggling with an addiction to crystal meth and says she has been clean for five days.

Walk in my shoes for a day, she said. I guarantee some of these rich people walking around on this high



wouldn’t survive.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness, said her organization has heard about more homeless camps leading up to the election.


conference. With shelters that see that spaces are already filling up or becoming limited


Friedenbach said it’s very frustrating because the city only displaces groups of homeless people when they’re relocated. Instead, advocacy groups at the conference hoped for more temporary housing for the homeless.

They want to polish the city’s image and use this conference as a way to reduce tourism, she said. These efforts never work because people have no disappearing power. There are people who live there because there are not enough homes. There is not enough shelter.

In 2022, 7,754 people were homeless in San Francisco. About 43% or 3,357 stayed in a shelter


city ​​data shows.

Homelessness is a controversial issue in San Francisco. In December, a federal judge temporarily banned the city from clearing certain homeless encampments without providing shelter. The injunction stemmed from a 2022 lawsuit filed against San Francisco by the Coalition on Homelessness, which alleged that city workers are trying to evict homeless people from the city and seize and destroy their property “for the express purpose of removing visible signs of to remove homelessness from San Francisco. Francisco Street.” The city is still allowed to clear streets for emergency, health and safety reasons and for temporary cleaning.

Emily Cohen, associate director for communications and legal affairs at the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said in an email that the city is not expanding shelters just for those at the top, but has set aside capacity funding to add about 300 to add.


beds as winter approaches.

The Interfaith Winter Shelter, which has a location in Natoma and

Eighth 8th

Streets, will be open during the summit and the city is expanding shelter capacity at three adult congregate shelters, she said.

When our community hosts events such as APEC, we want to put our best foot forward, she said.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans


San Francisco is held up as an example of what happens when Democratic politicians are in charge. In June, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, created a campaign ad that depicted San Francisco as a city that “has collapsed because of left-wing politics.”

“We came in here and we saw people relieving themselves on the street,” DeSantis said, standing next to a graffiti-sprayed building. We saw people using heroin. We saw people smoking crack cocaine, and if you look around you, the city is no longer lively. It really collapsed because of left-wing politics.

The city has struggled to recover from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as San Francisco suffered the closure of offices and businesses, partly due to government-mandated closures that

affected affected

a lively city center full of shops, restaurants and bars.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said this during a press conference




the fractured urban images people see of San Francisco on social media take a snapshot in certain neighborhoods and ignore the rest of the picturesque city.

“I see a lot of beauty all over San Francisco,” she said. I hope people get the chance to experience San Francisco for themselves and tell the whole story.

Later in the day, Breed and Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a new plant nursery and education center in



Newsom, who met with the Chinese president last month, said this before a major event like APEC


At the top, everything has to be called, just like when people clean their house before they have visitors.

This place is loved and its best days are in front of it, not behind it, he said. And all those doomsayers. All those negative people. You know what? They didn’t offer anything.

Yet business closures have also increased fears about the future of downtown San Francisco. Major retailers, including Nordstrom, T-Mobile, Whole Foods and Anthropologie, have left


concerns about less foot traffic, slow sales and safety. The


pandemic also led to more online shopping,

which meant that people had less need to visit shops so often.

Yet companies like I

Kea, KEA,

new stores are also opening in San Francisco and artificial intelligence startups are flocking to the city.

Rodney Fong, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said cities are reimagining what their urban centers feel like as technology changes the way people work. According to the San Francisco Travel Ass, APEC is expected to generate $53 million for the local economy


n., businesses across the city also have the opportunity to bring in more sales.

“This is a very important moment for San Francisco and we are very much looking forward to showcasing all the innovations,” said Fong.

Ahead of the conference, the once light gray Webster Street pedestrian bridge in Japantown has now been painted a new red. Two new decorative crosswalks were installed in Chinatown and North Beach. The green grime that once covered the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, near the conference, is gone.

On a sunny day before the summit, workers washed the streets and planted new grass in the Yerba Buena Gardens due to heavy use during the summer. A green fence, scheduled to be removed


Tuesday surrounding the park with a sign reading Improvements in progress.

At the Moscone Center, some of the city’s most picturesque spots are featured with signs providing information about the event. The Palace of Fine Arts. City Hall. The Golden Gate

b b

mountain ridge, next to blue water and a sandy beach. APEC is going to be EPIC, says a sign.

Longtime San Francisco residents like Jacobs can’t imagine living anywhere else.


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