Hosing Down Homeless People

On the morning of January 3, passers-by reported that a group of people were being sprayed with a hose while sleeping in their tents on 16th and Bryant streets. Members of the Coalition on Homelessness went down there to determine who exactly was spraying folks trying to sleep. During an attempt to interview the people found there, no one spoke on record and there was much confusion as to who they were being sprayed by. After some time, it was confirmed by one of our human rights organizers in the area that the Department of Public Works was in fact spraying down tents. Upon submitting an information request, we received a DPW field report. DPW had been there the morning in question and described their work in that area as “flushing”.


It is not a proud moment for our city when the Department of Public works fails to even mention the people affected by their actions.


These “flushings” are happening at a time when Leilani Farha, the U.N. special rapporteur on housing, recently visited San Francisco. As rapporteur, Farha visits cities across the world, creating reports on informal settlements of people. She had this to say on the conditions in San Francisco: “I have travelled all over the world seeing slums and people living in poverty, but what I have heard and seen so far here in the U.S., in just the last few hours, is stunning to me. It’s just so… cruel. There is so much hatred towards poor people here.” The rapporteur was referencing so-called “quality of life” ordinances that affect poor and unhoused people, but this attitude is reflected in city policy as well as in the actions of city employees.


The description of these sprayings as “flushings” is a reminder that the city government thinks of its poor citizens as refuse to be cleared from the street. This can be seen by the increasing level of collaboration between the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Police Department, California Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Health. These agencies collaborate in order to “resolve” encampments and to support one another during the numerous and less formalized “sweeps” of encampments in our city. These organizations meet monthly in order to strategize moving people and making sure they don’t come back. But where are folks supposed to go?


With over 1,000 people waiting to get into shelters each night, our city is prioritizing hosing down unhoused people instead of providing adequate shelter.