Ronnie Goodman, a 58-year-old homeless artist, was arrested near the Redstone Building on 16th and Mission streets when he jumped on a Department of Public Works truck to retrieve 50 linocut pieces he created — and the rugs and boards he shelters himself with — that City workers seized.
Initially, he was charged with felony vandalism and illegal lodging for the September 15 incident, but those charges were later dropped for a lack of evidence. The case against Goodman was weak, but based on Goodman’s previous experiences with Public Works, his confiscated artwork is possibly gone forever.
For all of Goodman’s renown as an artist — his work once adorned the walls of Supervisor London Breed’s office before she became mayor — that still didn’t prevent him from falling into police custody. One of the charges — illegal lodging, a misdemeanor under Section 647(e) of the California Penal Code — illustrates how the City of San Francisco continues to penalize its homeless populace. Also, Public Works’ casual trashing of Goodman’s prints shows not just disregard of homeless people’s belongings, but of the department’s own rules on storing and disposing of them as well.
Judging by the frequency of people visiting the office of the Coalition on Homelessness with misdemeanor citations, there has been an uptick of police officers citing under the illegal lodging code. This state code appears to duplicate several San Francisco ordinances used on homeless people, such as sidewalk obstruction, a sit-lie ban and, most recently, a sidewalk tent ban that voters passed in 2016.
Apparently, San Francisco police were undeterred from making an arrest, despite a recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court decision in a Boise, Idaho, case, where the judges ruled that removal of street encampments when a city has no available shelter is unconstitutional.
Encampment residents who report seizure of their belongings to the Coalition also fault Public Works for how it confiscates property. The department has a “bag and tag” policy, where a person’s stuff is documented and kept in a storage yard at Kansas and Marin streets for up to 90 days.
Items that are wet, moldy, urine- or excrement-stained, or contain food products are excepted from this policy. Unless Goodman was experimenting with food mold or fecal matter as new mediums, Public Works wouldn’t have had a reason to throw out his artwork.
Having already experienced the department’s improper disposal on 10 different occasions, Goodman said that he unsuccessfully tried to save his prints.
“When I saw the DPW truck once again filled with my artwork and the last of my belongings. I ran and jumped on the truck to get it back,” he said. “They charged me with a felony and arrested me. I never did get my belongings back.”
Recent history of Public Works’ practices supports stories of property destroyed. The Coalition made a public records request last year and learned that the department recorded just 19 “bag and tags” in a two-month span during the the Division Street/Mission District sweeps of 2016. When the sweeps kicked into high gear during the Super Bowl celebrations, the city made 33 “assessments” of camps, counting at least 55 tents. At one point, tents stretched for almost one mile along the Division highway.
Goodman’s own history of incarceration and homelessness informs his work. Hospitality House director Joe Wilson said that’s a stark reminder about the injustice of poverty. Wilson also noted that his homeless service organization also benefited form Goodman’s talents. Goodman raised about $40,000 for the nonprofit in 2014 by running a half-marathon and also auctioning one of his paintings for a raffle. He added that Goodman inspires people involved in social justice movements. The City owes Goodman for destroying his artwork, Wilson said.
“We hope Mayor London Breed will intervene and instruct City departments to make immediate and full restitution,” he said on Facebook. “When our institutions behave callously, our collective humanity is under assault. When art is regarded as a threat, we are all at risk. And when they come for the artists, history has shown us what comes next.”