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by: Ian Smith

It should be as simple as asking “Is this yours? Can you please separate what you want to keep from things you don’t?” Then leave the separated obviously OWNED possessions we want to keep the hell alone! In no other part of our American society, besides debt collection, can people come into your life with “a job to do”, tell you what to do with your time, your possessions and your home, and trash almost anything they lay their hands on (some acting as if they feel for us, others genuinely do within both Caltrans and DPW work crews). As of October 9th’s (posted) raid they came fast, hard, wielding threats of pressing charges with police implying our eminent arrest if we resisted in any way, shape or form their systematic tossing of our possessions, even, unbelievably including a few crates of stored up food for the entire encampment, an act I witnessed myself and tried to capture on film. Perfectly good food, boxes of it, thrown to a ever-backward moving garbage truck. What could we do?

Most of us were prepared, our possessions mobile and guarded by friends though there seems to be a disturbing trend of a few, despite warnings, postings and advice to gather their things, who lose everything they own, EVERYTHING, to a cold, smelly, air-polluting machine fed by the orders of people who do not care about anyone until election time. You want the truth? They are moving us right in front of your faces like a bright red ribbon, its bright flutter and pattern distracting you from integral issues, things that truly matter in our fair city their kind sneak out the door right behind you as you say to yourself, “Wow. Cool. Really this ribbon is all I really need to pay attention to.” If you look, you will find a disturbing pattern in our electoral process. The candidates do not want you to ever know what the real issues are, what they may be mucking up and about, and what they don’t Ever want to talk about. You doubt me ? Take a little time and for farts and giggles do a little digging. You will be surprised what you find.)

One day Forrest Last, a resident of The Fifth and King encampment located under I-280 on-ramp on king St went about his business as usual, frequenting the library, accomplishing chores and after visiting a friend returned to his area to find….nothing!

His tent, clothes, computer, books, toiletries, food, sleeping bag, EVERYTHING HE OWNED, was nowhere to be seen. He had his food card, birth certificate, medical records, pictures, journals, and jewelry family had bequeathed him all in his locked up tent. Forrest did not hesitate to find out where DPW may have taken his possessions and was directed to go to the DPW yard on Cesar Chavez Blvd.

I decided on accompanying him that day, mostly to satisfy my curiosity as to whether or not they really do “Tag and Bag” any of our possessions. Mind you, this was after Caltrans told us DPW handled all the removed items. That should translate, if everything was on the up-and-up, to Forrest’s overly organized small tent and all of the objects inside being stored in some form of secure containment facility, perfectly catalogued, somewhere in the Chavez DPW facility. Unfortunately, and I do not know if they purposely constructed this “system” to directly irritate the citizens they prey on, but that would be drawing a reasonable and logical conclusion as to what course of action is needed to rectify an already- way- beyond annoying and needless waste of everyone’s time and energy. Apparently logic wasn’t a key ingredient in the recipe for their “system”.

Forrest and I not only walked all the way there in some of the hottest weather we have seen this year, but, the DPW signs posted for the purpose of directing you to where you have to enter the yard directly contradict and confuse even the most astute of visitors. Oh, and get this; when asked, their own employees could not give us a definitive answer to the most basic of questions, one you would imagine being asked specifically in one form or another; “Where can we pick up my friends belongings?” To make the story short, eventually after three times around the perimeter with still no answers,

I knock quite hard on a random door and a polite and well spoken young woman allowed us entry and contacted a worker from the yard who was to meet us once again on the complete opposite end of the yard near the security booth. A half hour later a kind gentleman drives up, asks for a description of Forrest’s items, and disappears for another half-hour. Once again, long story short, not only did they not have Forrest’s stuff, our new DPW friend lets slip the fact that nobody’s taken items had made it to Chavez, nothing was logged as coming from Fifth and King. He even tried to wiggle his company away from any potential blame like any loyal employee should, but even he gave up after a few minutes and agreed that this was a messed up situation to have allowed happen.

Alas, that is what bureaucracies seem to do. DPW blames Caltrans, Caltrans blames DPW, and during this time people who have very little to lose in the first place are allowed to feel the frustration of it all. Yet it took three weeks and a newspaper article brought to our attention by a Salvation Army employee, who happens to be good friends with the majority of us, wondering why we had not spoke of the DPW yard located near the border of Daly City. Truth be told, we had never heard of it. I’m pretty sure I can speak for us all. We sure as hell never heard of the place until then. So another place to seek out and tackle.

To my surprise every time I asked someone where and how to approach the other DPW yard the same answer would form on yet another persons lips.” Why Bother?” Every person who was there one of the days they attempted to move us will say almost the same exact statement. “We were all there. We all saw them throw every thing into the compactor truck. You know they didn’t try to save a damn thing except for items they could claim (JACK) for themselves. We’ve witnessed it without embarrassment right there a few feet away. (We do actually find a lot of nifty, original, or unusual things. Like my Mom said occasionally, “ You see? That’s why we can’t have nice things!”

Essentially you are in a position where if you come up a little in the world, unless you carry it around with you constantly, you might as well drop it back where you found it. In many ways, that is the truth that’s been created. MY question to the powers that be is why? I understand having to deal with pack-rats, outdoor hoarders, junk sprawls and other man made disasters on a regular basis will direct your frame of mind toward a want for any solution just so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Better yet, allow me to present this simple question, “If I am not a part of that particular problem then why in God’s name am I and people with similar views of personal responsibility (i.e. – cleaning up areas of stay and leaving as little trace as possible if you are nomadic or keeping a long term area reasonably clean. ”Reasonably depending on the amount of outside trash collecting in this windy city of ours. Hmm:/’) Why in the world should we be pooled in with those who are? Why when some of us live the majority of our lives responsibly, differently granted, but responsibly, are we being treated like criminals by some officials? Even to the point of family pets being lost due to interference by over zealous, presumably over-worked police officers.

The majority of the officers whose acquaintance I’ve made do not want to harass us at all but would rather be paying a social call. I have personally met more police officers sitting in my area of stay reading a book than I can recall names. I do believe the majority of them are just people under orders of people higher then them in a chain. I am reasonably decent at reading people’s behavior and by just wanting to have one month without feeling like I’ve pissed off the police, why do I suffer in a line filled with acknowledged abusers of the system.

Some people want to stay outdoors. They will probably never live indoors for a major period of time again in their life. There are some of us with work ethics and a desire to improve ourselves regardless of where we lay our head. Don’t judge too readily. Most of us used to own houses and cars, we were neighbors who were successful at their goals until either circumstance or conditions whatever they may be changed that. You will find once outside this society for even a bit, for most there is no easy way back. So from myself and the hearts of those I spoke with ahead of time- Thank You for Your Kindness.

Don’t put up with the B.S., but at least try to identify those who mean no harm and are good people. Life can be hard enough on everyone. And will you please quit throwing our possessions away. If its not yours and its not you leave it alone and go in peace.


Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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