As he heads to work, Ruben Calalo (left) gets a kiss from partner Aliren Sunga at the Box City encampment on Seventh Street. The couple are part of a group of immigrants who know each other from the Philippines. Photograph by Lea Suzuki of the San Francisco Chronicle.
With the clunk of a portable toilet plopping down alongside the sidewalk at their shantytown, 20 homeless people in San Francisco began an experiment with the police and a nonprofit agency to try to improve their lives before they inevitably have to tear down their camp.
Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle reports the agreement with the Box City campers is that if they can take good care of the toilet and keep their settlement of a dozen hand-built shacks orderly, they’ll earn gift certificates at local businesses, and in two weeks everyone will have a barbecue together.
Nobody’s calling the little spread near the Caltrain tracks at Seventh and Hubbell streets a permanent camp, and no one wants more homeless people to rush in and set up more boxes. It’s just an effort to put a bit of order into an inherently disorderly situation that is replicated daily throughout the city in more than 75 street camps.
“What we’re trying to do is make this a more neighborhood-friendly environment while the camp is here,” said Officer Yvonne Moilanen, one of several police officers who deals especially with homeless camps in the city. “My goal is to let people know I’m not the enemy here, to change the impression that we’re here to only police things. We’re actually here to help.”