“Homes not barricades!! Homes not barricades!!”These are the words protesters chanted as they marched through the streets of the Tenderloin on August 22. Some were carrying police barricades, while others held signs that read ‘DEFUND SFPD,” “Rent is Theft,” and “Black Homes Matter.” Others were equipped with medical supplies and sustenance, and in the back you could hear the Brass Liberation orchestra playing their instruments brightly to the beat of the chants.
Community organizations such as House the Bay, Gay Shame, Coalition on Homelessness, Senior and Disability Action, Do No Harm Coalition, Every 28 Foundation, and more joined together for the march and rally to decry the settlement between UC Hastings and the City of San Francisco, which promises to remove all tents in the area with no offer of housing. While the coronavirus pandemic and bad air quality from raging wildfires pose a threat to our health and safety, those participating still chose to be at the rally. We chose to come out and march for the unhoused people who have no other option than to breathe this air and to shelter themselves in the streets with the high risk of infection from COVID-19.
Our city is our home, yet the City of San Francisco has abandoned our people living on the streets. The same streets where our public officials continue to criminalize poor and vulnerable people. The same streets where police brutality and anti-Blackness continue to show up. The same streets where the City’s solution to homelessness during the pandemic is increasing police enforcement and barricading public sidewalks during encampment sweeps. Time and time again, our society has shown no mercy to homeless people.
No one can thrive in a corrupt system created by racist policies. Despite the lack of housing resources, UC Hastings Chancellor David Faigman articulated that his goal with the lawsuit is to “clear the streets,” which will leave thousands of homeless Tenderloin residents at increased risk of sweeps, COVID-19, and unhealthy air. This city has been so gentrified that the only people we see now are those who are struggling to survive in a lively city that has slowly transformed into a ghost town. Meanwhile many people with privilege can look away and leave San Francisco behind because they have access to a home and a remote job during the pandemic.
“I love San Francisco, I love my City, but this city has failed me,” said Couper Orona, an uhoused San Franciscan and disabled firefighter who serves the local homeless community as a street medic. “Our City leaders, [they] need to get the fuck up and stop fucking around.”
San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, has used her power to take no action but to send police to criminalize unhoused people for the ways they survive on the streets. Not only has she refused to implement Proposition C, which should have opened 4,000 units to homeless San Franciscans, but she has also failed to implement the unanimously passed Board of Supervisors ordinance to open 8,250 hotel rooms to our unhoused neighbors during this pandemic. Instead, we see police barricades all over the neighborhood to block unhoused people from accessing the most rudimentary shelter. Our community cannot stand by the injustice created by Mayor London Breed and UC Hastings. Homeless people deserve better! We want housing for all, we want funding to go towards community services instead of SFPD, and we demand a moratorium on all sweeps.UC Hastings should not get to determine the City’s response to the needs of our unhoused neighbors. Our march wound through the Tenderloin and paused in front of UC Hastings where a law student addressed the crowd.
“For the two years I’ve received countless e-mails from my school about how they aim to be a ‘leader in anti-bias education,’ and yet UC Hastings has been and continues to be nothing but a hostile and racist presence in this community,” said Ava Agree who is studying law at UC Hastings. “ I am not surprised by this—but I am sorry. Because let’s be clear about what is happening here: UC Hastings raised tens of millions of dollars to build a new building at 333 Golden Gate Avenue. And to pay for it, they’d like to fill it with eager, white, young do-gooders like myself—and they decided the only way they’d recoup their investment would be by removing our unhoused neighbors.”
Marchers passed out flyers to passers-by about the action and about how to get involved with our ongoing organizing work. Along the way a few confused cops showed up, but were unable to reclaim the barricades we took. The march for Housing not Barricades continued. The band played louder, we held our banners and signs higher, and dozens of cars honked as they circled City Hall.
As we prepared the sound system for the next speakers, we transformed the barricades into a house at the foot of City Hall. The barricade walls were adorned with our signs, and a giant tarp became the roof. The completion of the installation in front of City Hall is symbolic of what we are fighting for and the direct action we need in our community. Everybody deserves a safe place to stay during the pandemic.
Jiffy Phan is an organizer with House the Bay.