By Michael Steinberg
Reprinted from IndyBay
On World Homeless Action Day, October 10, the squatters collective Homes Not Jails, along with Occupy SF and other local activists, took to the streets and sized a mammoth 600 unit building in San Francisco. The action began with a 5pm rally at Civic Center. After a quartet of horn players from the Brass Liberation Orchestra warmed up the rained-on crowd, one speaker from Homes Not Jails reported that the 2010 Census found over 32,000 vacant housing units in San Francisco, whose homeless population is said to be about 10,000.
A guitar playing bard sang, “Rob ‘em like Robin Hood, Rob ‘em like you and I should.” A local poet asserted, “Once you get a pink slip, it’s goodbye to the job, and hello to the streets.” Then a chronic housing activist suggested, “Take a home, you’ll be very happy.” Another HNJ organizer said that today’s action was one of “34 on every continent and in solidarity with all homeless and landless people. Today we will start building a better world.”
Then it was into the streets, as the assembled moved together across Civic Center Plaza and took over Polk Street. The people shouted “Housing Is a Human Right, Capitalism Just Ain’t Right,” and “Books Not Pigs, Teach Our Kids.” One banner read, “1 In 50 Kids Is Homeless Every Year.”
We turned left on Geary and paused at #1040, which one activist reported is empty now because Sutter Medical Group evicted 40 senior citizens from it recently. It was now 6:40pm. We crossed Geary and took a right onto the entrance driveway to the former Cathedral Hill Hotel at 1101 Van Ness, just across from Tommy’s Joynt restaurant.
At the entrance we stopped while banners reading “Occupy Everything” and “Homes Not Jails” appeared on the building. People explained that this gigantic structure consists of 600 empty housing units. California Pacific Medical Center—an affiliate of Sutter Health—owns it, and has plans to demolish it in two years in order to build a new gargantuan hospital in its place. In the meantime, CPMC has shuttered and blighted most of the neighborhood in order to make a case for redevelopment so it can secure the permits required for such a huge demolition of housing stock. Another building across the street–formerly the bustling home of a furniture store, a cafe, and a restaurant–is also among CPMC’s collection of vacant property in the neighborhood.
Someone shouted, “Are we going to leave this building empty?” and ran in. Many others did, too. The sole two security guards made no attempt to stop anyone. I heard one say, “They broke the gate chain and went in,” on his phone.
Soon I was inside exploring the lower floors of the derelict former hotel, which could provide housing for over a thousand. As one woman pointed out, “This is child abuse. This place could provide homes for all the homeless families with children in San Francisco.” Other explorers I ran into on the inside reported that the upper floors were in good condition and included a meeting room/bar that had a posted capacity for 400.
Once back outside I saw that two police cars had appeared at the Post end of the hotel’s driveway, but made no effort to come closer. I got on the mic and pointed out that this had been the site of other crimes. In the early 1980s it had hosted a visit by Duarte, the US puppet president of El Salvador, who presided over the US sponsored death squads, which tortured and murdered thousands in that small country in the name of democracy. A large demonstration protesting the presence of this mass murderer was brutalized by the SFPD back then.
Now five figures appeared on the roof of the building, one waving a black flag. “We have plenty of room,” another shouted out to us. Homes Not Jails reported that people were also occupying nearby 1028-30 Geary, where they took over 17 units at 7:45pm while Food Not Bombs served a free dinner out front. What a great way to celebrate World Homeless Day!