SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - As game day nears, San Francisco has faced increasing criticism over its spending on Super Bowl events, failure to get reimbursed by the NFL or Super Bowl 50 host committee, and its sweeping of homeless camps in the area surrounding the "Super Bowl City" site in Justin Herman Plaza.
Homeless advocates protested outside the site of San Francisco's Super Bowl City on Wednesday, where homeless encampments were cleared in advance of a nine-day celebration leading up to the Super Bowl game in nearby Santa Clara on Feb.7.
"We've got rich people partying so poor people need to get out of here for a while," Paul Boden, executive director of the San Francisco-based homeless advocacy group Western Regional Advocacy Project, said.
This past August, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said homeless people would "have to leave the street" for Super Bowl festivities "not just because it is illegal, but because it is dangerous."
The mayor announced a plan to move homeless individuals living in the Super Bowl City area to a transitional housing facility in the Mission district or to an estimated 500 new units of supportive housing planned to be opened by the end of 2015.
The city moved 24 homeless people from Justin Herman Plaza into a housing center before construction started on the event site last month, according to Sam Dodge, director of the mayor's Housing Opportunity, Partnership & Engagement (HOPE) program.
"The reason people found refuge in that area is that it can be relatively safe and a place where people can find a quiet area to rest," Dodge said of the Super Bowl City site. "We know that would not be possible as they fence up the whole area and move in this massive stuff."
However, several critics saw the mayor's decision to relocate the homeless as an attempt to keep tourists from seeing the unpleasant realities of poverty and social inequality in one of the nation's most expensive cities.
"Right now because a bunch of billionaires are coming into town to have a party over a football game, poor people, artists and everyone they don't want around are being told to get out of their town," Boden said of the mayor's plan.
Critics also say the list of banned items for Super Bowl City sends a clear signal that homeless people are not welcome at the event. The rules ban shopping carts, tents, large bags and "any item deemed inappropriate or hazardous by Super Bowl City security."
"We do know they are cutting off a pretty large area of the city and not allowing people into that large area," Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of San Francisco's Coalition on Homelessness, said. "So they are barring homeless people from a public event through virtue of their banned items list."
Lee's office responded that those items were banned for security reasons, not to exclude the homeless.
"When it comes to large-scale events like the Super Bowl, there are concerns that organizations like Homeland Security and others have about it being vulnerable to violence and terrorist activities," Dodge said. "I don't feel that's an unreasonable concern, but I also share the concern of advocates that we make sure that all sorts of events are accessible and welcoming for everyone."