San Franciscans getting relief blast city’s cleanup for Biden’s APEC

  • Tent encampments and social services are blocks away from summit sites 
  • People getting cash for taking COVID tests fear recent improvements won’t last
  • ‘That’s all they’re trying to do is make everything look pretty’

Blocks from the APEC summit in San Francisco and just down the hill from the luxury hotel that will welcome President Biden, struggling housing recipients line up to receive $5 in exchange for getting COVID nasal swab.

Many of them fear city cleanup efforts are just for show and wonder what will be left behind when dignitaries and world leaders from across the Pacific jet home. 

Among them is Michael Crowfoot, 58, who gets housing help and brings his paperwork to get the swab, and the cash.

‘Here’s what it is: You polish some brass and you set this ship right and you make everything look pretty for a moment. You’re not plugging the bucket hole. You’re just sticking a piece of cotton in it,’ he says of the cleanup.

City authorities cleared out a row of tents across the street from the queue, and while they wait an ambulance is tending to a situation at the dilapidated hotel converted into single room assisted housing. The neighborhood upkeep changes themselves are ‘wonderful,’ says Crowfoot, who has used hard drugs for decades and has some missing teeth to show for a tough life. 

‘You’re not trying to fix the issue. You’re just trying to cover s*** up, make it look pretty for TV,’ he tells as Biden prepared to fly to the city for an event that is an important milestone for the struggling city as well as the country.

'You're not trying to fix the issue. You're just trying to cover s*** up make it look pretty for TV,' said Michael Crowfoot on the eve of the APEC summit

Crowfoot has tended bar, worked construction, and even caddied at the elite San Francisco Golf Club. 

‘They don’t want to hear what the  f***  we got to say,’  Crowfoot complains, mocking a public works project around the corner that opened just days before the summit. ‘They should be doing something besides building skate parks.’

‘That’s all they’re trying to do is make everything look pretty and like they’ve done something,’ he said.

Sandra Case, who has lived in the city since 2019, brought her pink bike and health card to the sidewalk COVID testing site.

‘You come here, you swab, twice a week you get $5. Sure this is helping us out, but they’re not targeting the real issues, bro,’ she says.

‘The real issue – look around,’ she says. ‘The real issue is the homeless. The real issue are these babies. The real issue are these young kids that are in here being sex slaves. That’s the real issue. The real issue is not skate parks … it’s the elderly that are out here. The children that are out here. That’s the real issue. And people just don’t even look at that.’

She says she is no Donald Trump fan, but she also don’t think Biden, who arrives Tuesday afternoon and heads to a fundraiser before meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday, is doing all he could to help people struggling on the street. 

‘What is Biden doing? Scratching his b***s and smelling it? He’s not doing anything. I just feel like he could do more as our president,’ she said.

Case gets federal Social Security Income benefits, and says she does ‘what I have to do’ to support herself.  

But gift card programs and other support isn’t sufficient, she says. 

Sandra Case is among those who lined up Monday to get tested for COVID-19 and receive $5. She called for visiting dignitaries to look at the 'real issue' – homelessness, as the APEC summit gets underway

'Get them homeless people off the streets,' says Harold Thorton, who comes from Washington, DC and gets housing assistance in San Francisco

Marshall Davenport said he is struggling to fill prescriptions and get medical care. But he likes the idea of a new skate park that the city opened just days before APEC, having done similar activities in the past

‘Instead of giving us $5, why don’t you take that thousands of dollars and go make better schools and better places for the homeless instead of sticking us in f****** hotels. Why don’t you get these buildings fixed up. I live in the Windsor in the winter and the Windsor is s*****. Nothing but f***** mold. I got sick from being in my room,’ she said of the mixed income housing community.

Harold Thornton is no stranger to big shots rolling through suffering streets in a motorcade. He hails from Southeast Washington, not far from the U.S. Capitol. Thornton did construction in the Pentagon and even worked at a Maryland outpost of the U.S. Treasury Department (Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was in town Monday meeting with Asia Pacific finance ministers. She spoke about ‘regulation of digital assets, sustainable finance, and inclusive growth-oriented policies consistent with what I’ve called modern supply-side economics.’)

‘My thing is, why are you trying to fix things up now? Because I watch the news all the time. They put trees up. You got a lot of police hanging around, whatever. You need that anyway. Even when they’re gone, you still need all the police around. You still need to put trees up,’ he said.

‘When they’re gone, everything’s gone. That’s my perspective,’ he laments of the visiting officials, after going through the covid testing line along with his miniature pit bull.

The city has been moving encampments, cleaning streets, and opening new skateparks in its beleaguered downtown

Although he says he was homeless when he first came to town on a Greyhound bus, Thornton has little patience for the tent encampments set up around the corner. 

One tent even popped up in front of the building where he gets housing assistance – just hours after authorities shooed other tenters away. Services are there for people who take advantage, he says.

‘Get them homeless people off the streets. The tents, whatever. It used to be tents all through here. The city cleaned that up this morning. They’ve still got tents here.’ 

‘It doesn’t look good for the city,’ he added.

But Thornton does favor housing support in San Francisco, which faces some of the highest housing costs in the nation, and got battered by the pandemic when businesses fled downtown.  

Not everyone is capable of taking advantage of the services that a network of nonprofits and city agencies offer.

Marshall Davenport sits on the sidewalk under the orange awning of the Glide center for social justice, which provides several meals a day along with legal and other services.

He says he just got his ID on Veterans’ Day, but is struggling to fill prescriptions while battling a stomach virus and a problem beneath his shoulder. 

He said he lost his phone so he doesn’t know how to locate a clinic, and says he may call an ambulance if his situation deteriorates. The Louisiana native says he was on parole after an unfair conviction, then made his way to Miami and California

‘I think they’re coming because there’s a lot of foolishness between lawmakers here in California between both sides that’s holding the progress back,’ he said.

Unlike some of the people out on Ellis Street in the Tenderloin Monday, Davenport likes the new skate park, pitched by Mayor London Breed’s office as ‘the nation’s first street skating plaza.’

He said he used to do ‘stuff like that’ when he had a YMCA membership in West Palm Beach, Florida.

But Davenport also has concerns about whether the changes will last, on a day when city street sweeping machines could be seen blasting water onto roads into the evening.

‘We don’t know if it’s just temporary, if it’s gonna be under the right perspective for when they get here, you know what I’m saying? They’ve got to look at how much you’ve got to do daily to keep that … So that’s kind of hard with not moving homeless out of the way that don’t have a place. I don’t like sleeping on the streets,’ he said.


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