As COVID-19 hammers the unhoused population, two renegade women have occupied a Castro house that’s reportedly been empty and sitting on the market for years. A police melee ensued.
Among the many outdoor demonstrations taking place today, one of them here in San Francisco has the distinction of protesting on behalf of people who want to remain indoors, but cannot. That would be the action of a newborn advocacy group called Reclaim SF, who have clearly taken their cue from the Oakland Moms 4 Housing occupation in December that drew a heavy-handed raid, but ultimately an amicable solution. The Examiner brings us the news that Reclaim SF has occupied a Castro house with two women currently experiencing homelessness. According to a release from Reclaim SF, the women are an ex-firefighter named Couper Orona who is “known around San Francisco as ‘The Street Medic’ because she bikes around the city streets helping people treat wounds,” and Jess Gonzalez, “evicted a year ago because her landlord would no longer allow her to have her service dog with her.”
The protest is ongoing as of Friday afternoon, and we are clearly nowhere near the “amicable solution” phase, as evidenced by ugly scenes being posted on Reclaim SF’s live tweeting of the affair. Apparently at one point, vegan burritos were thrown.
The above Facebook Live video shows the first 90 minutes or so of today’s demonstration. “We are a group of housed and unhoused individuals who are taking over a vacant unit for our homeless comrades,” says an unidentified Reclaim SF narrator, who is quickly confronted by none-too-pleased Castro neighbors. “We got the welcoming committee of neighbors who are so, so happy to welcome some homeless folks into their neighborhood.”
Above we see the scene as of 3 p.m. today, from the Twitter feed of KQED reporter Erin Baldassari. The social distancing has clearly now given way to direct contact and conflict (Baldessari is now filing from inside her car), with reportedly at least one arrest, and an incident involving “a small dog” of a protestor, which in this town might end up overshadowing everything else.
Jess, an occupant of our liberated house was just let go as well as the other occupants! Jess is safe out in the street with supporters. Please follow our FB livestream for updates! #ReclaimSF #EndHomelessness #Housing4All https://t.co/ymrmUgzR2g— Reclaim SF (@reclaim_sf) May 1, 2020
It seems from the live updates that “an occupant of our liberated house was just let go as well as the other occupants!,” but it does appear they were removed from the house.
The cops are evicting two unhoused women who have not had a place to rest their heads for years! They tossed all our belongings out of the house. @LondonBreed house us now during a global pandemic! pic.twitter.com/5Fw4pbiCXS— Reclaim SF (@reclaim_sf) May 1, 2020
Organizers claim the house at 4555 19th Street is an “investment property that has sat vacant for years.” SFist cannot prove this, but the story seems to check out. The website 4555-19thst.com advertising the property has been online since at least April 2017, according to the internet archive. The site is branded as belonging to “Intero Real Estate, a Berkshire Hathaway Affiliate located in Los Gatos, California.”
San Francisco police are out of pocket for violently detaining someone like this.— Jackie Fielder for CA Senate D-11 (@JackieFielder_) May 1, 2020
All for a house that’s been vacant for four damn years.
I’m deeply concerned and am following @Reclaim_SF for updates. pic.twitter.com/C1WAJvMYsq
It’s surely going to be contentious that people were out protesting and shit-stirring during shelter-in-place. But their point that the plight of unhoused people during COVID-19 has been an issue worth rabble-rousing over, and the protests advocating for more homeless to be put in hotels figure to become more frequent, even with revised "Phase 2" sheltering orders soon to be unveiled.
This is a developing story and will be updated with any significant proceedings.
Image: Reclaim SF via Facebook Live