Making It in the Bay

Merlin-Street Encampment in San Francisco Cleared for Good

"What are you going to do? What can I do? What can I do but move place to place," said a lot resident

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One of the largest, most-enduring homeless encampments in San Francisco was cleared out and bulldozed Monday.

The so-called Merlin Street encampment is under an I-80 overpass and it was built on an abandoned state-owned parking lot.

For a long time, the encampment has been a jarring sight to see as a tent community grew and more. The clearing process however, was equally jarring for many.

Approximately 60 homeless people who had lived in the state-owned abandoned public parking lot scrambled to take their tents, cars and belongings as CalTrans crews took down anything that was left.

“And they use bully tactics, you know what I’m saying?," said lot resident Ashante Jones. "Telling people they gotta get what they have, what they can carry on their back or ‘we’re throwing your stuff away.’ It’s like, all this over a parking lot?."

CalTrans posted a message about the clearing out process.. saying the site had become a public hazard.. and that the homeless were being offered resources.

Advocates from the San Francisco-based Coalition On Homelessness say the move is more of an illegal eviction than a sweep, since some people paid the former parking lot operator money to stay here before he went out of business.

“Most of them have been staying here for years and even paid rent at times on this site," Carlos Watkins from Coalition For Homelessness organizer said. "A lot of folks in tents have been staying here upwards five to six months, which is super unique in San Francisco.”

Unlike some encampments, advocates say the homeless won’t be able to return. Instead, it will be the usual sidewalk shuffle.

"This site is going to be permanently gone because they’re going to be doing a lot of enforcement to make sure they’re not here," said Coalition for Homeless organizer Kelley Cutler, "but people don’t just ‘disappear."

Jones said there's not many options.

"What are you going to do? What can I do? What can I do but move place to place.”

Homeless advocates say the reality is there are not enough resources to help all the people who were displaced, so this encampment will turn into a lot of small ones throughout the city.

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