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San Francisco Doesn’t Need a New Jail

California’s prison and jail crisis continues to draw international attention as the state with the highest number of people living in cages has been found guilty of cruel and unusual punishment. The United States Supreme Court has ordered Governor Jerry Brown to reduce California’s prison population by tens of thousands by the end of 2013. Many of those effected come from our poorest communities, including people of color, communities experiencing high levels of unemployment and homelessness, and those already experiencing mental health and addiction challenges.

In response to this ruling, many of California’s prisoners are being transferred to local jurisdictions which research shows are better equipped to respond to rehabilitation needs since they are closer to inmates home communities and support networks. Rehabilitation can really only happen where support and resources exist. Continue reading

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Police and CHP Sweep Homeless Camp Near Cal Train Station

Early last week, the Coalition on Homelessness learned of the planned sweep of a homeless camp near the Cal Train station at 4th and King.

Tucked beneath an overpass on the 280 Freeway just east of the Sixth Street ramps, the residents of this community of around 40 people have lived peacefully alongside their housed neighbors for years. The camp consisted of approximately 15 tents, several mobile structures, and a few cars and other vehicles. The encampment was located near Cal Train’s northern terminus and the inbound terminus of the N-Judah line only two blocks from AT&T Park; tens of thousands of visitors and commuters have passed by or over daily without giving it much thought. That’s exactly how the folks living there wanted it. Continue reading


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Protesters Occupy 600 Unit Vacant Hotel

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!