Huge Police Presence Herds S.F. Homeless Protest Around Super Bowl City

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A strong presence of San Francisco police officers directed a peaceful march of about 700 people protesting San Francisco's treatment of the homeless around Super Bowl City on Feb. 3. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

A crowd of several hundred people gathered on San Francisco's waterfront and near an NFL "fan village" Wednesday evening to draw attention to the city's homeless population and what they say was an effort to move homeless people away from Super Bowl events.

Organizers had hoped to set up a sort of Occupy-style tent city steps from Super Bowl City, an area brimming with corporate booths, football-themed carnival games and live music.

"Homeless people are telling us over and over again that they’re being cleared out," said Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and demonstration organizer. "They’re feeling really squeezed by the Super Bowl and they’re feeling really upset about it.”

The idea of a protest encampment was short-lived, though. A San Francisco police officer warned protesters shortly after they gathered that a few tents erected on the Embarcadero's sidewalk would have to come down within a minute, or arrests would be made.

San Francisco Police officers keep a crowd protesting how San Francisco handles its homeless population corralled on a sidewalk across the street from NFL 'fan village' Super Bowl City.
San Francisco police officers keep a crowd protesting how San Francisco handles its homeless population corralled on a sidewalk across the street from NFL 'fan village' Super Bowl City. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

"It's completely unnecessary," San Francisco resident Sylvia Smith said of the police presence that at times appeared to rival the crowd's numbers. "It's a show of force to protect the property of the elite."

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Police Chief Greg Suhr said at a Super Bowl security briefing earlier Wednesday that police would facilitate peaceful demonstrations "right up until the point where they knock up against somebody else’s constitutional right, and then we’ll just have to make a call on a case-by-case basis."

Protesters lifted their tents -- bearing scrawled messages like "Tackle Homelessness, Evict Ed Lee and SFPD" -- and carried them on a march around Super Bowl City. Hundreds of SFPD officers in riot gear kept the crowd on sidewalks and directed them away from any entrances.

Protest organizers say there's been a rise in "quality-of-life" citations, like for sitting or sleeping on a public sidewalk, around Super Bowl events in San Francisco.

Sam Dodge, the mayor's director of Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships & Engagement, said two dozen people living on the streets were relocated from the area that became Super Bowl City, and they were offered shelter beds. He said there was no systematic effort to move people from other parts of the city ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.

But advocates said they're receiving reports from all over town that homeless people are being rousted.

"We’re seeing it," Friedenbach said. “I’m not sure what the disconnect is between what the mayor’s saying and what’s happening to homeless people, but the end result for homeless people is the same."

Another protest organizer, Stuart Schuffman aka "Broke-Ass Stuart," said the demonstration captured the attention of worldwide news media and was a success.

"It's important to show that the people in power in San Francisco would rather hide our problems than actually fix them," he said. "And they are fixable."

Supervisor David Campos, who was at the protest, is among a bloc of city legislators critical of San Francisco's deal with the NFL to host celebrations with no reimbursement.

"San Francisco is not hosting the Super Bowl," Campos said. "Santa Clara is hosting the Super Bowl. San Francisco is hosting the traffic of the Super Bowl."