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Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu
By Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu November 30, 2023

Homeless people in San Francisco didn’t go missing, they were moved into shelters and other areas

If Your Time is short

  • The Department of Homeland Security designated the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, attended by President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping of China, as a special security event, which restricted access for some geographic areas of the city. 

  • San Francisco officials moved some of the city’s homeless population into shelters before the summit.

  • Other homeless people moved to alleys and under a freeway, advocates for homeless people said. 

San Francisco is struggling with a homelessness problem, with tents and encampments in the city’s downtown areas. But in mid-November, when those areas were cleaned up, some social media posts made it seem like an ominous development.

One Nov. 22 Facebook post sharing a TikTok video suggests that homeless people went missing because the city was hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which  ran Nov. 11 to Nov. 17. World leaders such as President Joe Biden, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and China’s President Xi Jinping were among the estimated 20,000 people expected to attend.

"Evidently, people were driving around and they were getting asked to get in white vans and these people are never seen from again," an unidentified man in the video said. "There is some wild stuff going on and be careful how deep you dig on this y’all because you may not like the answers that you find." As the man spoke, eerie music played in the background.  

The video was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Other videos making similar claims have also been shared on TikTok.

San Francisco and California officials moved homeless people out of some city areas, but there was nothing mysterious about it — they were moved elsewhere in the city and, in some cases, offered shelter. The Department of Homeland Security declared the summit a National Special Security Event, which led to restricted access to areas around the Moscone Center and the waterfront.

"When our community hosts events, like APEC, we want to put our best foot forward," San Francisco's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said in a statement to public radio and television station KQED. "Dedicated outreach efforts will be focused on the conference vicinity and offering safe places for people experiencing homelessness will be a priority."

San Francisco Mayor London Breed addressed concerns that the cleanup was a temporary fix to spruce up the city for visiting dignitaries.

"Our goal is always to provide support, to provide compassion, but to not let people linger on our streets, especially when we are offering them an opportunity for housing," Breed told Bloomberg News.

News organizations including the San Francisco Standard, an online outlet, captured before and after photos of main streets from which homeless encampments had been removed.

"Approximately a month before APEC began, there was intentional engagement with the city and people experiencing homelessness in South of Market," a city neighborhood, said Terry Giovannini, chief program officer at St. Anthony’s Foundation, a nonprofit that supports homeless people. "Many of those folks did come to the Tenderloin (neighborhood) and they were telling us that they were given options for shelter," Giovanni told ABC7 News.

Javier Bremond, human rights organizer with the San Francisco advocacy group Coalition on Homelessness, told the San Jose Mercury News, a newspaper, that people also moved themselves to alleys and under a freeway.

We rate the claim that homeless people mysteriously went missing in San Francisco False.


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Homeless people in San Francisco didn’t go missing, they were moved into shelters and other areas

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