Uber’s autonomous car program drives out homeless camp

When Uber unveiled its self-driving cars in San Francisco earlier this month, apparently the last thing the company wanted was a homeless encampment blighting its testing facility.

So, before Uber rolled a handful of semi-autonomous Volvos onto the city’s streets, it quietly whisked away the roughly 30 homeless people who had been living behind its SoMa warehouse, CNET reports.

The self-driving car program ultimately failed — the California Department of Motor Vehicles shut it down just a week after its launch, revoking the registrations for 16 autonomous cars because Uber refused to get a state permit to test them on public streets. Last week Uber sent the cars to Arizona, where it vowed to resume testing.

But the short-lived pilot appears to have had lasting consequences, particularly on the area’s homeless population. CNET reports there had been a long-standing tent city behind the unmarked warehouse on Harrison Street where Uber housed its San Francisco self-driving car program. As Uber prepared to launch the program, its private security firm cleared away the homeless encampment — which was known by residents as “Lower Perry.”

The security guards who dismantled the camp were considerate, according to witness accounts reported by CNET. Residents were given a week’s notice before guards arrived in U-Hauls, helped them load up their belongings, and drove them to a location of their choice. The guards even bought the residents pizza, according to the report.

Still, the move ruffled feathers among some advocates for the homeless, who say shuffling people from one encampment to another just exacerbates the problem of homelessness in San Francisco. It’s become a hot-button issue in recent years as the booming tech industry has pushed the city’s housing prices ever higher, widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.

There seems to be no better illustration of that gap than to picture a homeless camp next to a line of shiny, new self-driving Ubers.

Photo: An Uber self-driving car waits to be demonstrated outside the company’s warehouse in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)


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  • HelenL1

    Humans suck. Homeless people are not cattle, they are people. And Uber is just one in a long line of people who are trying to kill the homeless by not allowing them to sleep at all. What’s the best solution to homelessness? Drive them to walk around like zombies and in NY do it in the cold until they crash and die. Sick Uber, just sick! You are making plenty of money, you could have found a solution instead of a throw away copout. Like the people flipping the house across the street from me. Shiny expensive cars and not an ounce of class, doing construction on Christmas day. Young, stupid greedy people. Keep your cars!

    • schrodie

      Then you can open your home up to those poor, unfortunate, downtrodden homeless folks. If you don’t, then you are a part of the problem rather than the solution. Go ahead– it’ll be a real eye-opener for you as you will soon learn WHY most of them are homeless.

      • gravityalert

        The vast majority of them are US Veterans & their families. Talk to some of them & find out their life stories before you judge even one of them. Just like the VA – USA don’t give a ratz azz about anybody who served time in the military. Take a bunch of people coming in off a freakin rubber raft & set them up in housing/medical/jobs/cars/drivers license/food stamps. They never did anything for USA & they get everything on a silver platter while the people who served for the USA are left in the streets to die. God Bless America 🙁 sux

        • spencer

          the whole situation dose surely suck. some vets become homeless but it is a choice for the most part. there are more programs than you can shake a stick at for veterans. Both public and private. The problem becomes to find a solution, it is easy to seek a solution that does not require you to get off your chair and do something, but it should not be one that requires others to give up for your ideals. Please keep your ideals out of my bank account.

        • schrodie

          If these homeless vets have families and the families aren’t helping their homeless family members… there might be a reason. Sure, maybe some of those families are jerks, but certainly not all of them. That leaves the problem as the veteran, not the families. And I’d also wager that some of the homeless vets had “less than honorable” discharges (that is, they had some problem that got them kicked out of the service), and as such would not be eligible for some or even ANY veterans’ services. If the discharge was not under general or honorable conditions, then there was a problem that would translate into civilian life.

  • Borismcbin

    I often hear of homeless camps being shut down. There was a huge one in Nashville that even had it’s own self governed police department, among other things, and it was shut down. Now the homeless wander around the streets. I think they should be allowed to build a camp somewhere out of the way, but close enough to the city. Shelters are ok too, but a lot of homeless prefer to avoid shelters.

  • tehInformant

    It’s sad how people have come to terms with homelessness like it’s something that can be part of society.
    There needs to be a bill passed that guarantees a standard of living for minimum wage, and any person who wants a job to have that standard will 100% be guaranteed to get a job and will be helped along the way to getting that job for 40 hours a week and not an hour more to earn that living standard.
    Every person who wants an education at a higher level should also be guaranteed to have access to community college level credit courses. Wanting/ desiring something is inherent to earning a gain to it.
    The minimum standard of living needs to be the ability to live in a safe neighborhood where you don’t get risk getting killed or robbed on any given week. That you can pay all your bills and balance a budget. That you can pay for food and grocery’s to fulfill the required number of calories per day a person is recommended to have. Pay of internet, a basic cell phone plan (communication, connectivity), a health care plan, transportation.. and meet all of these costs without debt. It sounds outrageous in the U.S but it’s all very normal and the only feasible way any country can actually sanely exist.
    If the lowest skilled people are truly at the bottom, why do they also have the highest obstacles. Their work life isn’t the challenge, it’s surviving the system

    • Kb

      Who do you sound more like? Trump or Obama???

    • spencer

      you assume those who live in these camps want to change… perhaps some do but the reality is most are ok with that lifestyle and yes i will say it you are forcing your closed mind on two groups at once first the ones who choose to live like that and two the people who you would force to pay for this grandios idea… if you think you can fix it, fix it with out taking other peoples freedom to be homeless or trying to take money from others to make yourself feel like you did something good. Just do it youerself.

    • Reddog

      So what you’re calling for is socialism. It’s been tried before with the following result: “…They make believe they pay us; we make believe we’re working…”. That was how the Soviet Union and East Germany collapsed. Notice how free enterprise adopted by the Chinese has buried us!…Socialism works well for an Indian tribe on a barter economy – because slackers are immediately banished or shamed into producing – but not so when government guarantees these things on your wish list: Con men game the system; and as word spreads it catches on. Communism failed for this reason.

      What you’re looking at is largely the failure of the family and extended family: Only THEY will care enough to set you right when you need a job; take a fall; your house burns down or your parents die. How is this experiment working so far?…replacing men in the home with
      a teenage mother and a government check?…Chicago just buried 700 young men. Is that social justice or progress. The paradigm has to change. We need to reinstate the tradition and extended family is we are to survive as a civilized society.

      • Borismcbin

        You speak of ignorance. The Soviet Union and East Germany were COMMUNIST, not socialist. There is a huge difference.

        • Reddog

          Every Communist country calls themselves Democratic Socialist Republic of _________ ;… It is a euphemism. What does ‘USSR’ stand for? Maybe that was before your time. You’re a millennial; and your professors are liars.

          And please don’t try to tell me anything about Socialism and Communism: I’m a Romanian. My family hails from Bucharest and we lived it. Our ration was a kilo of wheat per month. You had to register your typewriter if you could afford one. You had to stand on line for chicken neck bones, dried peas, or a moldy salami while communist party members dined on steak and champaign. That’s your ‘Socialism’: That was what THEY called it. If you stepped out of line you got a visit from the secret police – and if you were lucky you just got beaten with blackjacks or brass knuckles. If you weren’t, you got tortured and/or disappeared. My cousin lost his government job as an economist just for talking to an American tourist.

          A socialist is someone who can’t admit he’s a communist; because he hasn’t taken away your free speech and your guns yet. But eventually he will. They vary by degree, but they’re twin tyrannies: The centralized government control over the means of production and brutal persecution of dissenters.

  • Kb

    What will happen in San Francisco if everyone is a “Have”? I can’t even get to San Fran without paying a toll so where am I going to park my car for a minimum wage job? Or how am I going to pay for public trans into the city and to work a min wage job? I don’t see how a “Have Not” is going to survive in the city. There is nothing affordable in the city for anyone other than the rich.

  • Karen Rombeck

    We had a homeless camp in the green belt next to our community. Along with the camp we had increased thefts and property crime in our neighborhood.
    After one of them was caught burglarizing a home in our community, the police cleared out the homeless camp and now property crimes have dropped.

    If a person or company owns the property and they do not want people camping out, they have every right to have them, the garbage and crime that they bring removed from their property.

    If the homeless problem is because the rent is to high in the city, move out to the suburbs like everyone else does where rents are cheaper. Living in the city( if people choose to) is a luxury not a right.

    • Reddog

      The problem with that is most of them live on the street because they want to. If you put them in a homeless shelter they move back out: They don’t want to live by house rules of a curfew and a ban on intoxicants;…and for sure THEY don’t want to live inside a building with stinky vagrants either. These shelters are also dangerous with in-house gangs. One homeless man told me “they’ll steal the shoes right off your feet!…”. And some homeless are people who are just out of work and can’t afford to live anywhere or down on their luck; but others are mental cases that should not be wandering the streets and will never be able to take care of themselves.

      We need to have mental health laws that will put them in assisted care SRO units with social workers and supervision, medical oversight, and addiction services to get them off drugs and alcohol: The latter is the primary problem. I’m of the opinion that private charities if given the right incentives (not sure what they would be) would be more caring and competent in handling the homeless population than government intervention.