“The City Just Isn’t Offering That Help”

Jesus Perez on Disability, Sweeps and Vaccinations

Jesus Perez is a longtime homeless advocate, and is currently on the Board of Directors at the Coalition on Homelessness. 

What do you think is the most pressing issue in San Francisco right now?

All the stuff going on in San Francisco, with the police and homelessness. The last time I was in San Francisco I went out to check on all the homeless folks living in the alley, because the City is not doing nothing, and there were cops there. So I went up and asked the cop, “If I am disabled and I’m staying right here and you’re going to kick me out, what am I supposed to do?” And he didn’t have nowhere for me to go.

Are there enough resources for homeless San Franciscans who are disabled? 

I know Senior and Disability Action does good work, and I have organized with them before, but I don’t know if they really focus on homelessness. You see a lot of people with wheelchairs, and a lot of disabled people are homeless. [The City has] the Homelessness Outreach Team (HOT) that is supposed to come out and help people, but I hardly see that happening. 

When I was homeless, there weren’t a lot of resources for me. The Mayor says that they are going to do all this stuff for people to get inside, but I don’t see much for disabled folks who need help. I see a lot of disabled people still out on the streets, who really need housing, but the City just isn’t offering that help. And I know a lot of homeless people are disabled, because I used to go out and do the Point in Time (PIT) count. 

For someone who has never experienced an encampment sweep, can you describe what an encampment sweep is?

An encampment sweep is when the DPW trucks come in and they take all your belongings and don’t give you any notice or anything. And then, for example, if you’re a person who is disabled and they come in and take all your stuff, that means they might take your wheelchair, or your cane, or your medicine, and you are never going to be able to go claim it because they just make that impossible. They either just throw it in the garbage or it’s gone, you know? A long time ago, when we were working at Turk Street, I saw a lot of those trucks coming by, and they take the wheelchairs. And the police don’t care. So we need to be working for the folks who are disabled and homeless.

If you got to be Mayor of San Francisco, what would you do?

I would mostly focus on making sure people are getting into housing, and making sure that homeless people are treated right. Because there are a lot of different needs, for mental health, for substance use, because a lot of homeless and disabled people are going through a lot of stuff, especially with the crisis going on right now.

How has COVID-19 impacted homeless people?

It’s impacted people a lot because the Mayor said there was supposed to be a lot of vacancies to house people in the hotels, but it looks like they haven’t really focused on disabled people—they mostly focused on people who can navigate the system on their own. But a lot of people still need help getting housing, and need help getting the vaccine. 

What was your experience getting vaccinated like, and would you recommend it to others?

I got the one Johnson & Johnson [shot], so I don’t have to go back twice. It really helped me a lot because I know I got the vaccine, but I still need to be careful, you know? Because the way this new variant is, you still need to be careful. But I would still recommend people to go get vaccinated because it’s going to help other people, and it’s going to help homeless people. 

And I also understand why people don’t want to get vaccinated, there’s a lot of rumors going around saying it doesn’t work or it does something bad, and people have their choices, and I understand that too. People are going through a lot and don’t want to take their vaccine, and that’s their choice too. But if you get vaccinated, you really are helping other people not to get sick. And also make sure you wash your hands and do all this other stuff as well, even if you are vaccinated. 

They have all these people in San Francisco who are giving the vaccines, but they aren’t explaining to people how the vaccine works and everything, and why it’s so necessary to take it. And that’s going to be challenging, because there are a lot of people in crisis going through different issues and crises who are afraid to take it. 

So if someone is worried about getting the vaccine, what can you tell them about how it was for you?

Well, first, I went to my doctor and asked if it was safe for me to take it, because of my health conditions, and she said yes, it was safe. And I said, you know, if it’s not safe I’m not gonna take it, and they reassured me that it was okay. So I went in for my shot and I thought I was going to have to come back for a second appointment but then they told me I was done because I had the J&J shot, so that was a surprise. And it didn’t give me no side effects or anything. I guess the challenge is just that different people have different bodies. So I can’t say you won’t have side effects, it could be different for you. But they have all these different vaccines and they have all these studies and everything so I feel like it is safe. 

Also something I heard on the news, and I don’t really know if it’s true because they say things sometimes that aren’t true, but I heard the president wants to start giving people $100 to get the vaccine, but only for new people. The ones who already got vaccinated, we can’t get that money. 

I have heart failure, and I was really thinking about my condition and my health, because I wasn’t sure if it would be okay for me to get vaccinated. But I took it, and I thought I should take the risk because I didn’t want to get COVID, and I still take a lot of precautions, wash my hands and wear my mask, and let people know when we’re together that I’m at risk. People who have issues like me, I would encourage them to go in and get the vaccine because it won’t just help them, it will also help other people too. 

  • For more information about the safety of vaccines for people with heart failure visit: https://hfsa.org/heart-failure-society-america-reassures-patients-safety-covid-19-vaccine

How do you feel about the SIP Hotels closing and people being sent back to shelters?

It really sucks because some of these hotels, they brought people in and accepted them, and then later they just push people back out onto the street. It is important because if you have an inside place to sleep you aren’t really spreading the virus, and you get to stay safe and have the support you need in the hotels. And the people who have been pushed out from the hotels haven’t really had no support or nothing. And they say they are supposed to be helping people outside, but they are not!

How did you feel about the increase in police funding in the budget process?

I’d rather they give that money to homeless people and homeless families so that they could get a new place. I know we might still need police officers in San Francisco, but they aren’t really even doing their jobs. I mean, the cops come through and they just beat people up and take their stuff. If they’re going to give these people money, at least be sure they follow the rules and don’t just beat up homeless people. Because all those people who are just sitting there, not doing nothing, they just have nowhere to go. So, here comes the cops, where else are they going to go? One of the families I spoke to recently told me they’ve been seeing more homeless people outside in the Tenderloin, and I told her it’s because they sweep people in the Mission, then they come here. If they sweep people here, they just go somewhere else. People need somewhere safe that they can go. Instead of pushing people from place to place, they should help them get housing!