Sam Lew: Street Sheet Editor 2016-2017

Sam surrounded by many of the Street Sheet team.

What were the key issues homeless people in San Francisco faced during your time as editor?

The same ones that they are always facing: Folks were dealing with a lack of affordable housing the midst of the criminalization of homelessness. In 2016, criminalization manifested itself in then-Supervisor Mark Farrell’s Prop Q, the anti-tent ban. We ended up printing 50,000 Street Sheet-style papers agains Prop Q and included it in our campaign against the measure. In 2017, we published a cover story about an unhoused senior who received a $234 fine for eating pizza at a bus stop, emblematic of how the City continues to punish poor and homeless people for engaging in basic acts of survival.

We also began to truly see the impact of climate change on unhoused people. A number of California fires, including the North Bay fires that occurred in October 2017, disproportionately displaced poor and homeless people. In the wake of the fires, adequate services for homeless, undocumented and incarcerated people were few and far between. 

How do you think things have (or haven’t) changed in San Francisco homeless policy since you were the editor?

Policies in criminalization haven’t changed, although they have taken on new names. From the Encampment Resolution Team to the Healthy Streets Operation Center, the goal is the same: Get homeless people out of public space. Prop C Our City Our Home, which is now in the courts, was a turning point in San Francisco homelessness policy. The measure taxed SF’s largest corporations to fund housing for homeless people, behavioral health services, homelessness prevention, and emergency services. It was a step towards how much we should be investing in housing and how we should be funding those investments.

Do you remember printing any issue or story that you are especially proud of?

A few of them are my favorites: the Street Sheet’s first comic issue, the youth issue where we published artwork, poetry and writing all from young folks who had experienced homelessness, and the prison issue, which featured a number of letters and writing from prisons around California.

Is there anything you wish you, or the organization, had done differently in retrospect?

I wished — and I still wish! — we were able to pay folks a living wage for their writing, photography and artwork, especially for the unhoused and poor contributors of the Street Sheet.

What were some of the key struggles you were part of, either within the organization or within the larger community, during your time as editor?

Fighting Tasers! Fighting Prop Q (And R and P and U!) — there were so many bad initiatives on the ballot that year.

How has your time as editor of the Street Sheet influenced the work you have done since?

I’ve worked as the Policy Director at the Coalition on Homelessness and been able to use so much of what I learned from the Street Sheet in my everyday work. My mentor — TJ Johnston, longtime staff at the Street Sheet — taught me an incredible amount about ethical journalism, thinking critically about homelessness and housing, and how to be a better human.