San Fran, CA: City Hall’s Latest Plan to Tackle Homelessness — FOOD TRUCKS!

The food truck scene at Fort Mason is providing inspiration to Bevan Dufty (Credit: The Chronicle)

By  Heather Knight |

The food truck scene at Fort Mason is providing inspiration to Bevan Dufty (Credit: The Chronicle)

They may be two of San Franciscans’ favorite pastimes: complaining about homeless people and finding the newest, hippest food truck.

The ever-creative Bevan Dufty has found an unlikely nexus between the two in his latest offbeat effort to get homeless people off the streets.

The mayor’s director of HOPE (housing opportunities, partnership and engagement) hopes to get a soul food truck on the streets of the Tenderloin soon that will be staffed by homeless people and get healthy food to those living on the streets or in supportive housing.

He’s envisioning starting with one truck staffed by 12 to 14 homeless people who have access to a city-owned industrial kitchen. With help, they’ll prepare soul food and distribute it five days a week at lunch and dinner throughout the Tenderloin.

He’s thinking tables, music — a veritable block party that gets supportive housing residents out of their tiny rooms for a sense of community. And in a neighborhood populated with corner liquor stores and fast food outlets, it’ll give residents a better culinary option.

“It’s a neighborhood where a lot of people are living in supportive housing,” he said. “They don’t have kitchen facilities so their food options are limited, and those limited food options are undermining people’s health.”

Dufty isn’t sure how he’ll pay for it, though federal McKinney funds for employment programs for homeless people may be an option. There’s also no indication of just when the truck will start rolling, but soon.

“I feel the urgency of now,” he said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr. “You live or die every day.”

This comes on the heels of Dufty’s program to pay a stipend to people living in supportive housing to foster problematic puppies at the city’s Animal Care and Control. He called that program WOOF (Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos), and the soul food truck program has a catchy name too: Heavenly Souls.

“I’m a soul food aficionado, and I am well known for my talent at preparing soul food — you can ask people,” said Dufty, who grew up in Harlem and whose godmother was Billie Holiday. “They may bring me in as a consultant.”

Like WOOF, Heavenly Souls will focus on getting homeless people off the streets by giving them something better to do with their time rather than through arrests or citations. Dufty said that’s one of his primary goals as the director of HOPE.

“We’re really focused on housing, and we need more housing, but I also think we need avenues of independence and avenues that lead to greater purpose,” he said.

Ken Reggio, executive director of Episcopal Community Services, said his organization is supportive of Dufty’s plan and will provide guidance. His nonprofit runs a program called Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Services (CHEFS).

Through CHEFS, homeless people go through a six-month food preparation training course and an internship before trying to secure a regular job. Seventy-five percent of participants secure housing after completing the program.

“I think it’s on the mark,” Reggio said of the food truck idea. “I think homeless people are, like all of us, wanting to have a job and wanting to succeed, and many are very able to given the right opportunity.”

Dufty also has a supporter in David Carleton, vice president of Catalyst Kitchens which runs food service training programs for homeless people around the country. He said Dufty’s idea of running the program on a food truck actually isn’t a first — Boise, Idaho is also doing it.

He said bringing soul food to the streets would mean healthier and more appetizing fare for Tenderloin residents since affordable food there tends to not be healthy or appetizing.

“From my perspective, there’s too much of the same old thing where we’re opening canned beans and corn dogs,” he said.

Asked if he was spending too much time coming up with wacky, tangential programs instead of focusing on clearing homeless people from the streets, Dufty said no. He said he’s on the streets frequently with the city’s homeless outreach team and police officers and pointed to the recent clearing of a homeless encampment near the Caltrain station as an example.

“That is the bread and butter,” he said. “It’s just not as interesting. It doesn’t provoke as much conversation as other things that I’m doing.”

And anybody who knows Dufty knows he loves conversation.

P.S. NBC Nightly News has been in San Francisco this week to film an upcoming segment on WOOF.

And with regards to that puppies-for-panhandlers program, Police Chief Greg Suhr was at a gathering with Dufty recently where he told folks, “Bevan will get you a cocktail — and a dog.”