A Target store in San Francisco is keeping tents behind locked cases -- and the internet thinks it's because homeless people are stealing them

  • A Target store in San Francisco has started keeping tents behind locked cases.
  • San Francisco has a dire homelessness crisis, with an estimated 7,499 people living without permanent shelter in 2017.
  • A Target spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider that tents are a “high-theft item” at this store location.

San Francisco has a serious homelessness crisis.

It’s gotten so bad that a Target store downtown has started keeping camping tents behind locked cases to prevent people from stealing them, according to a company spokesperson.

The company did not say if the policy is meant to deter homeless people in particular.

Earlier this week, Jane Natoli, a financial crimes analyst at payments startup Stripe, stopped into the Target Metreon store in San Francisco’s SoMa neighbourhood and was surprised to find tents in locked cases that are typically used for safeguarding alcohol and medicine in stores.

She posted a photo in a tweet that has since gone viral.

“Target in San Francisco has to lock up its tents. Just sit with that thought for a minute,” Natoli said.

In San Francisco, an estimated 7,499 people were homeless in 2017, according to a point-in-time count. The city has long run out of shelter beds to keep them. Tent cities are forming in alarming numbers, spreading from parks and underpasses to tourist-magnet neighbourhoods.

The Target Metreon store is located in a neighbourhood that’s close to the Civic Center and the Tenderloin – where needles, garbage, and faeces are found in concentrations comparable to some of the world’s poorest slums, according to a report from NBC Bay Area.

People on Twitter quickly came to the conclusion that the tents at Target were being locked up because homeless people might be stealing them as a last resort for shelter.

A spokesperson from Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, told Business Insider in an email, “Due to a large number of thefts, we took additional steps to protect the merchandise at our Target Metreon store, including putting high-theft items in locked cases.”

The representative did not say how many tents have been stolen from the Target Metreon store, but the move is not standard practice across Target locations.

In December, the San Francisco SPCA, an animal welfare group, put a security robot to work outside its facilities in order to prevent homeless people from setting up camps along the footpaths. The group said the number of camps dwindled and there were fewer car break-ins.

But the move drew sharp criticism from people who said the SF SPCA showed a shocking lack of compassion for its homeless neighbours. The group quickly pulled the robot from the streets.

People responded to the tweet about the Target store with more disappointment in the city’s response to the homelessness crisis than anger at the company.

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