Homeless San Franciscans Sweep City Hall

Activists create chaotic mockery of city’s ineffective and inhumane response to homelessness

Community members, including homeless people and service providers, converged on City Hall on Thursday with push brooms and bullhorns and demanding solutions to homelessness. The spectacle drew attention to the cruel encampment sweeps led by San Francisco Police Department and the Department of Public Works that involve stealing homeless people’s belongings and pushing people from one block to the next.

While the city denies that it carries out illegal encampment sweeps, homeless people and advocates have detailed regular attacks on homeless communities. During a sweep, police will show up to an encampment without notice and several disgruntled Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) workers will run up and down the encampment offering limited 30 day stays at a navigation center. Then DPW will come through and trash tents, medications, and personal belongings, often violating their own “bag and tag” policy which should allow unhoused folks to reclaim their stolen belongings.   

“We’ve heard far too many stories of people losing their tents, bedding, survival material, medications, and precious sentimental items to believe that these are just one-off incidents,” said TJ Johnston, assistant editor of the Street Sheet and a member of the Stolen Belonging project. “These sweeps are systematic and only serve to further destabilize unhoused people.”

A coalition of unhoused San Franciscans and allies, including front-line service providers, physicians, public health professionals, and advocates are leading a campaign called “Solutions Not Sweeps”, which demands an end to sweeps and asks for real services to be offered to support people in finding permanent housing. This action at city hall mobilized coalition members to fight back against the illegal and inhumane practice of sweeping away homeless lives.  

“The way we currently handle street homelessness makes absolutely no sense,” said Armando Garcia, Human Rights Organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness. “We can have policies that address homelessness without sweeps and criminalization.” 

This campaign comes after a federal court ruled that cities cannot legally enforce camping bans if there are not sufficient shelter beds available. With over a thousand San Franciscans languishing on the waitlist for a shelter bed, it is time to halt the practice of encampment sweeps and invest in permanent housing for homeless people.