Last fall, I went to Fifth and King Streets in San Francisco, just under the on-ramp to I-280. A group of tents inhabited the space then. The ground around the tents was swept, and bicycles stood in neat lines. Residents, such as Jessica Prater, knew one another and felt safe there.
If you really want to know how our local economy is doing, look no further than the nearest homeless shelter. Former Supervisor Bevan Dufty oversees homelessness in the city, and he says these days, San Francisco’s roughly 1,150 beds are nearly full each night. Advocates say there’s been a sharp increase in homeless seniors, especially women. It was rare to see this population on the streets a few decades ago, but now service providers say it seems to be the norm.
As California sloshes through its rainy season, homeless people around the Bay Area are looking for places to stay dry. In San Francisco, the spaces under freeways are popular, and groups of homeless people sometimes band together for their mutual protection. Still, as you might expect, living on the streets isn’t safe or easy.
There's a place in the urban East Bay where you might have to look twice to spot the school bus. That’s because it’s a special kind of bus: kids get off to climb trees and pick strawberries along the way; the drivers don’t need a special license; and -- most importantly -- it runs on sneaker feet, not wheels.
It’s a Saturday morning at a formerly vacant lot in Richmond. The sun warms the ground. Rows of fruit trees bend in the breeze. A raised bed made of cinder blocks harbors vegetable plants. Andromeda Brooks carefully plucks weeds from her raspberry patch, offering the young plants encouragement. This is Happy Lot Farm and Garden.
Less than a year ago, this 14,000-square-foot lot, zoned for low-income housing, lay empty, except for the litter.
“Nothing has really been done on the lot for well over ten years,” says Brooks.