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San Francisco | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons

Midnight Park Closures Would Target Homeless San Franciscans --- Again!
by carol harvey ( carolharveysf [at] yahoo.com )
Wednesday Oct 16th, 2013 1:34 AM
Outside City Hall, homeless occupiers' unique protest tactics rule the sidewalk, while inside homeless advocates pack public comment against Supervisor Scott Wiener's Park Closure Proposal which would drive Unhoused San Franciscans from parks.
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On Monday / October 21, 2013, 6 to 9 p.m., at Global Exchange, 2017 Mission Street, 2nd Floor, Occupy Forum will host two homeless activists offering parallel grass roots and regional-national strategies to defend homeless rights.

These presentations will occur during a period of intensified City-wide gentrification, including unlawful renter evictions, removal of Market Street homeless chess players, police harassment of homeless people, and Supervisor Scott Wiener's thinly-veiled attempt to drive the unhoused from city parks.

Mike Zint, who event organizer Sarah Menefee describes as a “long-time Occupy SF organizer and strong presence and force in the street level 24 hour Occupy at Chelsea Manning Plaza and 101 Market,” will discuss ways to combat illegal Sit / Lie and anti-lodging laws used to scapegoat and harass homeless San Franciscans.

Paul Boden, past Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director and current Organizing Director of Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), who Menefee champions as a “hell-raiser, writer, and inspiration for poor and homeless people like himself” will speak on the California Homeless Bill of Rights, and social transformation through homeless-led organizing in California and the West.

DRIVING OUT THE POOR

On Sunday, October 6, 2013, homeless advocates held a Chess-In on Market Street defying the downtown Business Improvement Districts' (BIDs) pressuring cops to evict homeless chess players and their decades-long peaceful brain game, claiming they attracted drug deals and gambling near the Powell Street cable car tourist attraction.

Advocates observe cops stepping up efforts to disband homeless encampments and redoubled enforcement of San Francisco's Sit / Lie law which prohibits sitting or lying on sidewalks. Sit / Lie restricts unhoused people to an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. sleep window. But, Market street dwellers claim police often wake them early with tickets or roust them in the black of night, confiscating their bedding and belongings --- literally leaving them out in the cold, sleep-deprived, and ill from exposure.

WIENER'S PARK CLOSURES

On Monday, October 7, 2013, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Land use Committee voted to move without a recommendation to the Tues/ Oct. 29 Full Board meeting Supervisor Scott Wiener's proposed legislation to “establish a baseline closure of 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. for all San Francisco parks, with exemptions for walking, biking and driving through” Golden Gate, Lincoln, Balboa and McClaren parks.

People forced to sleep in parks for safety would risk criminalization for their unhoused status and face Infraction fines of $100 to $500. A Misdemeanor would carry up to six months' county jail time and a $1,000 fine – a penalty no homeless or poor person could pay.

In crafting his park closure law, Supervisor Wiener continued his pattern of advancing the interests of wealthy business owners and developers, making policy reflecting their limited focus on driving the homeless, the poor, even lower middle class residents out of every corner of a city where even moderate incomes cannot meet rent.

Coalition on Homelessness lead organizer, Lisa Marie Alatorre believes it's not only the BIDs' mindless reshuffling of homeless people from place to place throughout the City in some vain attempt to disappear a group that can never go away. She thinks the push also comes from a loose network of neighborhood groups, developers, park people --- 'haters,' on The Haight Neighborhood Council who just don't want to have homeless people around.

Alatorre confirmed that on Oct. 29, the Full Board will “duke it out” in discussion and debate, making amendments and changes to a finalized law.

Alatorre wants to see momentum galvanized for massive grass roots groundswell support in which, over the next three weeks, the community steps up in strong opposition to this highly controversial issue.

“London Breed, D5, Norman Yee, D7 and David Chiu, D3, are the swing votes, so we really need folks in their districts to step up and put pressure on these supervisors,” said Alatorre.

She hopes San Franciscans in Districts 3, 5, and 7 will phone the three Supervisors saying, 'Look! People don't want this,' so, they can say, 'My constituents are telling me not to vote for this!”'

Alatorre observed that during the October 7 hearing, ”Supervisor Jane Kim (D6) asked good questions and voted against moving the legislation to the Full Board. It's just painful to see some supervisors unwilling to stand up for what's right,” Alatorre said.

An estimated 40 people spoke in robust opposition. Around 25 Coalition on Homelessness advocates joined public commenters from Hospitality House, the AIDS Housing Alliance and the Harvey Milk Democratic Club. These last two groups advocated for the many unhoused LGBTQ San Franciscans.

ABSURD, RIDICULOUS, DUPLICATIVE

Alatorre called the closure law 'an absurdity,' “ridiculous,' and 'duplicative.'

“Most of our parks already have closing hours.” Implementing legislation intended to curb vandalism and theft by changing parks' closing hours also duplicates already-existing laws which have not reduced vandalism and theft, she said.

“If those laws were appropriate deterrents for those behaviors, then they would have worked already. So, there's no reason for us to believe that a new law will make any difference.“

Instead, Alatorre expects to see huge implementation and enforcement costs --- signs, gates, fences, and park patrol salaries.

Citations will generate incarceration and court fees, she observed.

San Francisco taxpayers will be socked with the bill. Their taxes supplying General Fund money will pay all these costs.

Worst of all, poor and homeless people will feel what Alatorre calls this law's 'unintended consequences.'

“What we will actually see is massive displacement of people who are forced to sleep in the parks because there's nowhere else for them to go.”

When that happens, “folks will be forced onto the streets” and “into new neighborhoods, creating new crises.”

“We have only 1,339 shelter beds, and over 7,000 people on any given night who are homeless in San Francisco. More than 5,000 people are forced to find refuge and places to sleep either on our streets or in our parks,” she said.

She insisted The City should prioritize increasing affordable housing, including permanent, affordable public housing.

INSIDE / OUTSIDE OCCUPY TACTICS

While the Coalition on Homelessness conducts its protests at the Board of Supervisors, a group of Market Street homeless activists, in coordination with public commenters inside City Hall, employ relentlessness, humor, documentation, legal acumen and 'peace at all times' as an 'outside game' strategy.

With their own unusually assertive and creative tactics, they have pushed back against intensified police harassment and discriminatory enforcement of sit / lie laws, including Wiener's park closures.

Their main combat strategy involves chalking humorous, but direct, messages on sidewalks, megaphoning information to passersby, and video documentation of 'unconstitutional' police practices.

They attempted an Embarcadero Labor Day 'Vigil” they claimed was Constitutionally legal, protesting that San Francisco taxpayers who funded the recent America's Cup event received no invitation to hobnob with the Rich at catamaran races or City Hall galas.

When park police drove them out in a reprise of the nationwide 2012 Occupy encampment shutdowns, they marched to City Hall and camped below the Mayor's balcony. There they expressed their peaceful citizen dissent against the excesses of the One Percent and the unjust enforcement of sit / lie against poor and homeless people.

Through unknown means, they procured a printed invitation to the Skull and Bones Society's Garden of Good and Evil party attended during America's Cup events by Congressional Minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi.

One barefoot 'Rodent McSkinhead,' AKA 'Scud,' produced said invitation at the door. Blocked by the Deputy's wry retort, “No Shoes, No Shirt, no Service,” Scud returned with a shoe around his neck and a shirt tucked into his pants. The Deputy again turned him away, grinning.

They also chalked 'Ed Lee Is An Asshat' on a pedestal next to City Hall steps.

This raw humor drew reporter, Josh Sabatini, whose San Francisco Examiner article stated, “they are targeting Mayor Ed Lee, who they say has turned his back on the homeless.”

Their hijinks drew Ed Lee himself asking how long they planned to stay. 'Three weeks,” they said. A man they guessed was the Mayor's personal Security was sent to cuff, interrogate, and intimidate one protestor inside City Hall. In the small room were two SFPD officers, two Sheriff's Deputies, and an apparent Homeland Security official. The detainee remained calm and was released without incident.

They returned relentlessly chalking sidewalk messages decrying Sit / Lie, The Mayor's suspected corruption, Scott Wiener's park closures, and SFPD attacks. Despite this, Police Chief, Greg Suhr, often walks by and greets them.

They befriended a City employee with a garden hose who washed off the chalked messages as fast as they wrote them. On Tues/ Oct. 8, the message, “I am appalled,' appeared at the foot of the statue of Abraham Lincoln. They chalked and megaphoned the expected puns on Scott Wiener's last name. “____ head Wiener, Stop scapegoating the poor!”

Calling Wiener's rationalization for midnight park closures 'retarded,' Mike Zint said homeless people will break the law anyway because parks are empty, and they know how to avoid tickets and where to sleep.

He said homeless people actually protect parks. RV owners like Mike himself, “park on a block --- [with] no broken windows on that block. The cars down the block --- they got broken windows all up and down that block. The RV owners and the homeless protect their territory. They keep it clean. They don't want the hassle.

“People keep blaming the homeless for all this because it's easy to blame them.

“It's not the homeless vandalizing,” he says. "It's the yuppie kids."

These protestors view the Sit / Lie law as part of a class war of Rich on Poor in which Ed Lee, Greg Suhr, and Scott Wiener are the Wealthy's lapdogs.

Mike Zint, asserts the police continually violate citizen dissenters' Constitutional right to sit or lie in the public spaces they own, and to 'lodge,' and hold possessions routinely confiscated by police.

He cites Sit / Lie's Exception 4, the right to sit or lie during “demonstrations.” He insists the protestors' 'Permit' is First Amendment free speech rights.

He claims that California Penal Code '647e' regarding vagrancy laws gives homeless people lodging rights on citizen-owned common spaces.

Zint cites the Sep. 5, 2012 9th Circuit Lavan vs Los Angeles Law stating homeless people legally possess their belongings on public sidewalks.

These protestors are prepared to be ticketed and arrested for acting within laws they say cops break. Generally, the police release ticketed parties without much ado.