Note(s) to Power: Houseless Evictions on My Block

in which I help move my houseless neighbors' belongings one block

I’m starting a new series called Note(s) to Power. Each one of these notes is a letter I’ve written to someone in power, whether that’s my District Supervisor, the Speaker of the House, a CEO, or the Executive Director of a big non-profit.

If (and hopefully when) I get answers, I will also publish them here under a section titled, Answers from Power.

And…here’s a selfie from yesterday. I took it a few hours after witnessing the eviction of my houseless neighbors. The experience really affected me. It was nigh impossible to concentrate all day long. And I even had to crawl under my covers to bawl.

Dear Supervisor Walton:

I am writing to you to follow up on a previous thread and to bring up another issue that I witnessed yesterday: homeless sweeps. 

Yesterday, on Hampshire Street between 17th and Mariposa there was an eviction on a community of houseless folx living on that block around 9am. A few moments later, there was another eviction of houseless folx from Florida and 19th Street across the street from the new CHALK Offices and where the Latino Task Force sets up their Food Pantry and COVID Testing site. 

The dynamics of the entire eviction were fucked up. I walk Hampshire almost every day. My husband definitely does as he takes the 22 bus to work (the stop is five blocks from our house). Since the main drug dealer from the encampment either left or was forced to leave a few weeks ago, the encampment has done an excellent job of keeping tidy and keeping spaced. Being forced to live on the street isn't ideal, and this community was trying its best to do what it could. They occupied the sidewalk outside the Muni substation. That is as out of the way as you can possibly get. They shouldn't have been moved, especially as we are still in the middle of a pandemic. 

I did hear a couple got services, which is incredible. So glad that happened. But that wasn't everyone. At all. And you can move people into services without displacing everyone else. 

What I witnessed on Florida and 19th depressed and enraged me. The residents on Florida were mostly camped out in front of the empty lot between 19th and 18th, the spot that is designated for affordable housing that still hasn't been built. This is the same lot that used to house Cellspace (an affordable arts organization), a framing shop, and a few other PDR (production, distribution, repair) businesses. 

The men were forced to move their belongings by DPW. I don't trust any homeless eviction or the San Francisco Police Department at all. I intervene as often as I can within my own neighborhood, including putting myself in the middle of neighbors calling the cops on houseless and mentally ill folx. You even have a record of me calling your office on one such occasion this summer. 

So I went to just watch and make sure things were going mostly as ok as they could. The inhumanity and inconsideration for the entire population of folx who are suffering astounded me. 

DPW evicted the folx and told them they had to move. Where were they going to move to? Two blocks away. That's it. That's all they had to move. The men were struggling to get their stuff and move it, so I pitched in and helped them move their the corner of 19th and Alabama. I sat there to watch their belongings as they continued to move more of their stuff from Florida to Alabama. 

The spot they were forced to move to on the corner of Alabama and 19th was in the long, snaking line for the Food Pantry that runs 10-15 blocks through the Mission. They didn't settle there, but they did have to move it to that spot so DPW wouldn't confiscate it. 

I sat there watching this whole thing while line monitors for the Food Pantry line didn't help or do anything to support the houseless folx being evicted. Not once did anyone from the Latino Task force offer aid. 

It was such a moment of rage and frustration. How have we normalized this inhumanity within San Francisco?

I get that shit is tough right now, and that our non-profits are stretched beyond capacity. You know what, I am also stretched beyond capacity. I don't work in institutionalized NGOs. In fact, I left precisely because I saw explicitly how San Francisco CBOs literally cut each other's throats and straight up lie for grant money in this City. My husband and mine combined income is around $60K/year, which is not a lot (and also more than those living on the streets). We cannot afford insurance, and we're on Healthy SF (low cost healthcare, not insurance). I really do get that shit's tough. 

It is also disheartening that a community serving organization didn't actually serve an incredibly vulnerable community right outside their doors facing eviction. I cannot stress this enough: Not a single person helped. And I was there because my husband on his walk to work told me about the evictions so I stopped what I was doing to see if there was any support I could lend to my houseless neighbors. 

The solution to this problem is affordable housing. Lots of it. It isn't continued and sustained harassment and eviction of houseless folx. It isn't normalizing these evictions so that people won't offer aid or support. It isn't more CBOs getting more money for services. Housing solves homelessness.  

I want to know: 

  • What is your stance on homeless evictions (aka sweeps)? 

  • And what are you doing to stop them? 

  • What policies are you advancing that increase dramatically the pipeline of affordable housing? 

  • What is your stance on using imminent domain to seize already built housing from landowners that are shirking their duty to affordability (aka Academy of Art, Veritas, etc.)? 

  • What is your stance on private land ownership versus turning land into a public good? 

  • What is your stance on giving land back to indigenous communities for stewardship, especially given that the Ohlone people are not recognized as a Federal tribe? 

  • What is your understanding of the core problems with San Francisco? 

I look forward to answers to all of the questions I asked. I know that times are busy and stressful. I also want answers. 

Jason Wyman