This Monday at 10am there will be a hearing at City Hall on poaching and recycling.  This is a very important issue that particularly affects Kezar Gardens.  Our space has long been a target for people to project their fears and misguided notions about homelessness and poverty to the extent of seeking our eviction for serving such peoples.  We have been blamed for encouraging “poaching” simply because we exist as a state certified recycling center in a state mandated zone required to offer recycling.

It is often inferred that someone with a shopping cart full of recyclables has stolen them.  While it may be true, that people do pick recyclables from Recology’s blue bins, it also true that the shopping cart itself is probably not the property of the recycler.  So why not go after shopping cart theft first?

Law enforcement could easily spot and cite people for shopping cart theft.  In fact, they tried to do just that under the Matrix program back in the 1990’s under Mayor Jordan.  So why didn’t it work?

Well, many San Franciscans abhorred the idea that our efforts to deal with poverty were so obviously punitive and demeaning to a class of people who were extremely vulnerable already.  Though Mayor Jordan took similar steps as Newsom and Lee have, enforcing a sit/lie type policy and criminalizing panhandling in order to remove it from view, Jordan’s many efforts not only failed but were eventually reversed.  In the fray, dozens of poor folks lost their belongings in shopping cart raids and were unduly harassed by city police.  FOOD NOT BOMBS, an organization our friend Diamond Dave from MUTINY Radio was instrumental in, organized food giveaways to assist people without homes while the persecution was carried on.  It was divisive policy that polarized people around the issue of visible poverty and it continues to this day.

So what to do?  As a city, we have not moved past negative policy mongering to deal with the issue of the poor.  Sit/Lie is back on the books and efforts to shut down state mandated environmental services are topping the list as a combat to poverty.  Since when did we all sign up for this “scorched earth” approach to liberalism?  People were gleaning before there were ever systems in place to “own” our trash and if you really want to go after a crook, there are plenty of JP Morgan Executives to spend your energy on.  Let’s leave the poor people alone and let them pick cans!

If you have an opinion on this, come out Monday morning to City Hall and share it.  If you need more information, see the historical time line below that compiles the homeless actions from Mayor Agnos-Mayor Newsom included below.

History of Homelessness and San Francisco City Policy


During the 1980s, homeless people began appearing in large numbers in the city, the result of factors that were affecting the country at large combined with San Francisco’s attractive environment and forgiving policies: economic and social changes, the popularity of new addictive drugs, and the wide dispersal of Vietnam veterans are often cited as reasons for the growth of the problem. Mayor Art Agnos(1988-92) was the first to attack the problem, and not the last; it’s a top issue for San Franciscans even today. Agnos allowed the homeless to camp in the Civic Center park, which led to its title of “Camp Agnos.” The failure of this lenient policy led to his being replaced by Frank Jordan in 1992. Jordan launched the “MATRIX” program the next year, which aimed to displace the homeless through aggressive police action. And it did displace them – to the rest of the city. His successor, Willie Brown, was able to largely ignore the problem, riding on the strong economy into a second term.  Gavin Newsom, while working to increase the amount of supportive housing, is attempting to solving the homeless problem by making the homeless as uncomfortable as possible so they are forced to utilize services (even though there are currently not enough services) or leave the city.

Through increasing use of homeless sweeps, property theft, and anti-homeless police citations, the city of San Francisco has made a notably aggressive attempt over the past three years to decrease the visibility of homelessness.  Homeless people are routinely displaced and told to “move on,” as an attempt to make them less visible. Large-scale homeless “sweeps” are frequently used as a tactic to accomplish this.

Agnos Administration

1988: Sweeps in Golden Gate Park, Civic Center and Cole Valley

1989: Mayor Agnos orders Police Chief Frank Jordan to sweep Civic Center Plaza of the 60-100 people living there.

Jordan Administration

1992:After the passage of Prop J (put on the ballot by Mayor Jordan), the City outlaws aggressive panhandling.  Alvord Lake (part of Golden Gate Park at Haight and Stanyan) was closed during the evening.

1993: The Matrix Program began. Between August and December, 5,602 citations are issued to homeless people for Quality of Life offenses. More citations for sleeping and camping in the parks, drinking in public, obstructing the sidewalk and sleeping in the doorways were issued in the first months of Matrix than in the five previous years combined.  The Transbay Bus Terminal, home to more than 100 homeless people, locked its doors to them. A program serving many of the Terminal’s severely mentally ill residents was also shut down. Virtually every City park was closed at night by the Rec. and Park Commission.  Food Not Bombs began getting arrested for serving food to homeless people in Civic Center Plaza.

1994: After the passage of Prop J put on the ballot by Mayor Jordan, panhandling around ATM machines was prohibited.  After the passage of Prop V put on the ballot by Mayor Jordan, all single adult welfare recipients began being fingerprinted. “No parking from 2:00am to 6:00am” signs were put up by the Port Authority on a street in China Basin where most of the City’s mobile residents resided. Mayor Jordan declared to the media that there were armed criminals posing as homeless people and using their shopping carts to transport weapons. He ordered the SFPD to arrest people in possession of shopping carts. The people of San Francisco openly express their outrage at this proposal and no one gets arrested. 11,562 citations issued for life-sustaining activities.

1995: In August, Mayor Jordan planned Matrix II, “Take back our Parks,” a multi-departmental intensive sweep of Golden Gate Park, and uses it as a media moment in his mayoral campaign. Homeless people lost property and were displaced. Mayor Jordan ran an unsuccessful ballot measure (Prop M) to prohibit sitting and lying in commercial districts around the City. 14,276 citations were issued for life-sustaining activities.

Brown Administration
1996:50 homeless people were evicted from a lot in the Bayview referred to as “Land of the Lost”. The City settled out of court. Mayor Brown declares Matrix is over. SFPD formed “Operation Park”. 2-6 police officers on each shift were assigned to roust and cite homeless people in the parks of their district.  17,532 citations were issued for life-sustaining activities.

1997: Massive sweeps of Golden Gate Park began. Mayor Brown asked to borrow the Oakland Police Dept.’s night vision-equipped helicopter to locate homeless people illegally sleeping in the park, but was denied. Homeless people lost property and were displaced from the park. Homeless people were prohibited by the SFPD and DPW from taking their property from the park and were told they could retrieve it another day. Since this time, a special crew of Rec. & Park employees was been formed and maintained in order to identify and destroy homeless encampments in parks around the city. An encampment between Bayshore and highway 101 was cleared by Caltrans and the CHP after the 25 residents organized a massive cleanup. Caltrans created a special unit that sweeps homeless people and their property from under bridges and highways. 15,671 citations issued for life-sustaining activities.

1998: “No Loitering or Sleeping” signs are placed in public parks around the city. Civic Center Plaza is remodeled, removing the fountain, adding two children’s playgrounds, and the park is cleared of homeless people. A police officer was assigned to monitor the park. A huge encampment was swept across the street from the now Pacific Bell Park. The residents negotiated with the private property owner and worked out a plan for residents to vacate the property that gave them some time. Many residents relocated to the Mission Rock shelter that opened nearby during the same time. City Outreach workers helped with the transition. The Board of Supervisors made it illegal to drink in parks where poor people congregate (Round 1). The Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance making it possible for police to cite people for camping and sleeping in UN and Hallidie Plazas. Caltrans did a massive sweep of property under bridges and highways. Castro merchants organized an anti-panhandling campaign called “Create Change” that urged people to give money to charities, not panhandlers. The District Attorney began a “3 strikes and you’re out” policy for people found drunk in public. 18,590 citations issued for life-sustaining activities.

1999: Officers from the North Beach District take photographs of homeless people claiming they were creating a scrapbook. They distributed copies of the pictures to local merchants ordering them not to sell alcohol to anyone in the pictures because they were “habitual drunkards.” The City settled the ensuing lawsuit out of court. The story made Reader’s Digest. The Rec. and Park Commission made it illegal to drink in parks where poor people congregate (Round 2). An encampment near Battery and Broadway was swept by DPW and a fence was erected by Caltrans and again, Caltrans did a massive sweep of property under bridges and highways. The Mission Rock shelter is closed. Nearly 45 people documented that their property was destroyed during the sloppy closure. Supervisor Amos Brown introduced anti-panhandling legislation, calling it the “Pedestrian Safety Act.” The Board of Supervisors voted against it.  Mayor Brown ordered homeless people to be charged with felonies if found in possession of a shopping cart. After a week of bad press, he then claimed he never ordered it. 23,871 citations were issued for life-sustaining activities.

2000: The City Attorney began prosecuting homeless people in traffic court for Quality of Life offenses. This program cost the city $250,000 and was a dismal failure in its stated purpose of connecting homeless people with the services they supposedly refuse. A permanent fence is erected around the DPW station at McAllister and Larkin Streets after our friend Trent is found there dead from an overdose. 17,954 citations were issued for life-sustaining activities.

2001: UN Plaza starts its remodeling, lawns are closed, the fountain is shut down. All benches are removed in a midnight attack, costing the city $24,000 in overtime. A large encampment under the Cesar Chavez Circle highway overpasses was swept by DPW. Property belonging to homeless residents was videotaped being thrown into the back of a city garbage truck. After the tape aired on a local news channel, Mayor Brown claimed the incident was staged by homeless advocates, and the homeless person the newscrews interviewed was an actor. 75 homeless people were displaced and many lost property. A fence was erected by Caltrans. The District Attorney replaces the City Attorney in traffic court prosecuting Quality of Life offenses until the new fiscal year began and such enforcement was taken out of DA’s budget. The District Attorney started prosecuting California Penal Code 647(j), a misdemeanor that makes it illegal to lodge on public or private property. Homeless people begin to spend more time in jail. The City spends $30.8 million to incarcerate homeless people. 9,134 citations issued for life-sustaining activities.

2002: A large encampment is swept from Berry Street. 100 homeless people are displaced and a fence was erected by DPW. The City spent $13,644 on this sweep not including the costs for the extensive police presence on the day of the sweep. Day Laborers along Cesar Chavez Street began receiving petty offense tickets from the SFPD in an effort to drive them from the area. DPW started Operation Scrubdown, targeting downtown streets and alleys. Workers would move homeless encampments then hose down the area with nasty chemicals making it impossible to return to that spot. DPW estimated that Operation Scrubdown cost the City $11,000 every day. The Board of Supervisors passed a new law prohibiting urinating and defecating in public, but no new public bathrooms were opened. Three dogs belonging to homeless people were shot by the SFPD within three months. 6,957 citations issued for life-sustaining activities. An additional 2,035 misdemeanor lodging citations are also issued.

2003: “No habitating in your vehicle between 10:00pm and 6:00am” signs are put up in China Basin and Bayview districts. Homeless people living and caring for the property behind Laguna Honda hospital were relocated. People accessing City-funded homeless services were required to be electronically fingerprinted and photographed before receiving any services. Homeless people were swept out of Dolores Park by SFPD. A nearby drop-in center was closed indefinitely. Between January and July, 7,004 citations were issued for life-sustaining activities. A homeless man receives 30 days in jail as his sentence for a lodging citation.


Newsom Administration

2004: “Care Not Cash” is passed and General Assistance checks are cut from $349 a month to $59 a month.  Anti-panhandling legislation is passed, though city officials say social workers will be sent to help panhandlers instead of giving them tickets.  Social workers were out on the street for less than a week.  “Street cleaners” begin washing the sidewalks of the Tenderloin (Market to California) three times a night with powerful hoses.  The street cleaners spray the homeless while they are sleeping.  The homeless are required to be fingerprinted in order to stay in shelters and there GA checks will be cut to $59 if they choose to stay in a shelter.  Changes in homeless policy have led more homeless people to migrate to different neighborhoods or to squat in houses of people on vacation or abandoned buildings.  The city begins to work on creating supportive housing for the “chronically” homeless.