Ariel, a longtime Mission resident currently living in a tent on 19th Street between Capp and Mission, was transported to a safe sleep site and offered services following a Friday media event August 27 attended by Governor Gavin Newsom.
Newsom, who was attending a media event ahead of tomorrow’s recall election, quickly vanished. But on Monday August 30, Ariel was back on 19th Street in her tent.
The media event organized around the participation of a dignitary in raising the city’s awareness of homeless residents is not unusual. But, for Ariel and the neighbors and social workers who have gotten to know him, it’s also an example of how difficult, after reporters and photographers left, getting someone from the streets to a shelter.
The local mission chapter spoke about the experience with Ariel. He said he offered himself the option of moving into the shelter on August 27, which included a platform for his tent and an electrical hookup. “I just went to see him,” he said. But he does not want to commit to it yet.
Neighbors say Ariel was the only person staying on 19th Street before the pandemic. A few others showed up during the pandemic, some of whom accepted services during Newsom’s visit.
Ariel, who says she moved here from New York almost 30 years ago, is well known and loved by locals. An individual walking past his tent on 19th Street during our conversation said that Ariel had been in the neighborhood for 15 years and had previously had a room in a residential hotel down the street, which Ariel confirmed.
Ariel’s tent adjoins the building housing the former Mission Local office. Our editors recall many pleasant conversations with him as he charged his phone in the lobby of the building. Gentle and polite, he often mentioned specific fears and paranoia about people trying to control and harm him – perhaps even via satellite. This, he said on Monday, is a deterrent from leaving the streets.
Sam Dodge, who runs the Healthy Streets Operations Center in San Francisco, confirmed that his team offered Ariel space at a secure sleep site run by Dolores Street Community Services at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. following the Newsom event.
“They are wonderful, very low threshold,” Dodge said of the site that opened last year. “We were hoping this might be a good solution. “
Dodge said it convinced Dolores Street Community Services to reserve space for Ariel for three days so he could think about it. But Ariel’s final decision to stay in her 19th Street tent did not surprise the community.
Ariel might not be able to follow conventional long-term housing rules due to behavioral and mental health issues, said John Gridley, facilities manager at the supportive housing organization DISH.
Gridley, who befriended Ariel several years ago and delivers letters and cards from Ariel’s aunt and uncle, has tried to find her accommodation in the past.
Neighbors observed regular visits from the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team, and Gridley said he asked HOT to include him in their visits because the presence of strangers who know his name and where he lives has already afflicted Ariel.
“The type of services he needs would not fit the parameters of the supportive housing organization I work specifically for,” said Gridley. “I just don’t know if there is something that would suit him better.”
Carlos Wadkins, human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, said that “collective shelters are not adequate or appropriate for many populations”. People with more complex medical and behavioral needs, disabilities or past trauma, for example, may “fall through the cracks”.
“It requires a diversity of resources and trauma-informed awareness,” Wadkins continued, noting that clearings or “resolutions” from encampments are generally disruptive. “The model itself is not conducive to this kind of trauma-informed relationship.”
“It’s mostly a spectacle, and not just when Governor Newsom is around,” he said.
For the whole show, however, Ariel this morning was unaware that Newsom had visited her on 19th Street last month – an interaction detailed in the city’s Official Gazette. Ariel says he loves the governor. But he’s still not sure whether to vote on September 14.
Dodge has not commented on the remarkable moment of Newsom’s visit ahead of the recall election, and he maintains the city’s agendas can work, even for Ariel.
“It is important at some point to find a way [to shelter Ariel]. Right now he wasn’t ready, which is good, ”Dodge said. “It totally changes his life. This is a great thing. We will try again.
Ariel says he’s ready to move someday, but 19th Street is home “for now”. The people who also make their homes and businesses there treat it accordingly.
“What he has now is a community, people who look out for him and take care of him,” said Gridley. “It may not be conventional, not like a lot of us do with community. But it’s a community.