“We have a right to live just as much as anybody else, and have possessions”: Interview with Guy Jeffries

by the Stolen Belonging Team

My name is Guy Jeffries. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 15 years. About a month ago I had DPW [the Public Works department] stop by and give me a warning to pack up and leave. They said I had a whole day to do this, so I went to the store to retrieve the trash bags I needed to pack up my things. I came back. I had no personal belongings left. The tent was gone. Everything was gone. I was gone 20 minutes from my camp after DPW left. They explained to me that all my stuff was crushed in their picker. It’s a big trash truck that they use to grind down everybody’s personal property, no matter what is.

San Francisco resident Guy Jeffries gestures as if he’s holding one of the most beloved and irreplaceable items stolen
from him in the sweeps: his great grandfather’s watch. Photo by Leslie Dreyer

I lost my money, savings, everything, because of them. I also recycle for living. During this time, the recycling was also taken. It left me broke and without food or shelter.

I was injured at the time. I had gas burns on my legs, third degree. They knew this. They knew I needed housing. I’m able to work. I’m willing to work. Even though I’m fully disabled and with burns, I still worked picking up cans and odd jobs with third-degree burns. They had come by and stripped me of everything. This is one of six different times. Once again, two weeks ago they came by, took my tent again, everything I own again, including my money, my tools, everything I had to make money with. They also took my clothing, so I had no clothing, my hygiene items, my portable toilet, everything I had to depend on to live safely on these streets. This was all I had, so at this time they didn’t care. I explained to them I needed the items back. They told me once again it was crushed and ground, and I would not receive any of those items back. It started raining. I got stuck in the rain.

I needed those clothes so I could change every day to stay clean and not be disease-ridden, especially around the infection on my legs. They took my gauze and bandages all as well. That was in my backpack that they took, and they crushed it, and left me basically with nothing. I waited at the hospital for two days before I got bandages.

I don’t think this is just, I think it’s wrong. I’m a Native American citizen as well as a veteran. Why is this going on? That’s what I want to know.

Can you tell us about the items that DPW took from you in the sweeps that you find irreplaceable? 

I had personal jewelry that belonged to my mom, and my dad’s rings, as well as his watches, which were very expensive as well as antiques. They were passed down through the family, and they were very important because they were supposed to be passed on to my children. My parents died here back in ’89 and ’85, so those were very precious to me.

My dad’s watch was a 1919 watch that he received from his father, who had received it from his father. And this watch was handmade from Germany and was a possession that I wanted to give to my first born. It was very important. I’m Native American, and for me not to have something for my son, I’m embarrassed because they mean that much to us.

The other items were the rings that belonged to my mother, and were passed down from her aunts, her grandmother and her great grandmother.  I’m not sure what the dates were where those are from, because they’re not dated, but they were very precious and well taken care of. 

They’re not replaceable. These items were passed down through our family, and each item was held by each individual that was in our family among the years. They hold memories that you can not replace. That you always have, but you can not replace them. You can not hold what your mom held at your wedding. You can’t smell the flower bouquet that’s on her dress.

You can’t even imagine the things that people need to have to survive out here. This is hard out here. I’m a Marine and I’m still having a hard time, but I’m going to tell you something. This is wrong. 

Reflecting back, how do you think the city should compensate you for this loss?

There is no real, real compensation, but I would like to just see them stop this gathering up everybody’s tents, everybody’s personal belongings and food. We have a right to live just as much as anybody else, and have possessions. There is no God on these streets that’s walking around and saying, “This is what you could have. This is what you could have, and you can’t have this, but everybody else can.”

We might be living as nomads in these tents, but that’s all we have. I lost my house to a very severe back tax thing that you would say might sound innocent. They cannot replace my house. They did not give me any money back. I was left to live on the street. This shouldn’t be happening anywhere in the United States. Not to someone’s personal property. We worked for this. We don’t steal it. We shouldn’t have our personal items taken.

How do you think the city should be held accountable for taking your stuff?

I think they should be accountable, like reimbursing people for some of the items that they have lost. Ones of value, the food items, the clothing. They should be reimbursed for everything they’ve had taken. They should never have their stuff taken away. Everybody has the right to their own possessions. 

What would you say to someone who’s housed or who works for the City, so that they could see this incident from your point of view?

I would tell them, come to the streets, stay a week on the streets with us and see how much struggle and damage we do to the streets. We don’t. The programs that have been given to us are being basically taken away, traded or exchanged for different programs of no use.

The navigation[centers], great idea. They do work in certain cases, but they usually don’t give us long enough to complete what we need to transition to permanent housing. They want us to switch shelters every 30 days. This makes it impossible for us to retain any work. Our job might be clear across town. We have no way to get there.