The NFL and Pope Francis Are Impacting U.S. Cities in Same Way

S.F. hosting Super Bowl 2016 and the papal visit in Philly are putting a spotlight on homelessness.

(Super Bowl: AP Photo/Eric Risberg; Pope Francis: L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

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As California’s Bay Area gears up to host the Super Bowl in 2016, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is talking about his city’s homeless population — and solutions that aren’t just about sweeping aside people who are living on the streets. Though the game will be held in a stadium outside the city proper, there will be plenty of related events and festivities in San Francisco, including a “fan village” called Super Bowl City.

Last month, S.F. Gate reported that the homeless population in San Francisco isn’t decreasing:

To many, it seems as if the population has actually ballooned, and officials and advocates for the homeless say there appear to be several dynamics propelling that perception. One is that many panhandlers are actually housed but living hand-to-mouth; another is that the number of street people has grown significantly in upscale neighborhoods such as the Castro and Pacific Heights.

But perhaps most tellingly, the percentage of older and severely troubled homeless people has grown, meaning that those on the street are more difficult to help and, with the wear and tear of living outside, look more ragged.

This week, according to CBS San Francisco, Lee said that, in advance of the Super Bowl, he is engaging several city agencies including police and social services, and the Mayor plans to have more homelessness programs in place before the NFL’s championship game. He also said the city should have at least 500 new apartments intended to shelter homeless individuals built by then.

“Some of them are mentally ill. Some of them have severe drug addiction and yeah, they get cleaned up 24 hours and they are back on the environment that caused this in the first place,” Mayor Lee told the station. “I have to have an alternative. Otherwise we are just moving them from one area to another.”

However, the city’s efforts may end up making only a slight dent in the problem, as ThinkProgress points out (while also noting that taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars for the build of the stadium where the game will be played):

Adding 500 new units of supportive housing for the homeless would be a significant improvement in San Francisco’s offerings to the homeless. But the enormity of the city’s homeless population casts doubt on the idea that even several hundred new, free homes would be sufficient to prevent the Super Bowl festivities from displacing indigents.

Philadelphia will face a similar challenge much sooner, when Pope Francis visits in September.

The Pope, of course, has been vocal about what cities should be doing about poverty and supporting the underserved, and advocates in Philly are working to ensure alternative shelter is available for people who typically sleep in central areas that will be cordoned off during the event. They are holding what they call “pope-ups” in the city — complete with a big cardboard cut-out of Francis — to call attention to the issue.

“In Philadelphia, we’re so excited to have Pope Francis come here, but that has to inspire us to action, promote systemic change, and encourage people to get involved and do something concrete in his honor,” prominent advocate Sister Mary Scullion told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: homelessnesspovertysports

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