A private company allegedly took it upon themselves last week to clear out an encampment that had been established for about six months outside the former Honda dealership on Market Street at South Van Ness. And this was in preparation for TechCrunch's virtual Disrupt conference, which wasn't welcoming any attendees but was using the space for filming.
The tent sweep, which was not sanctioned by any city department but was apparently being observed by SFPD officers standing by, took place just after midnight on Thursday, September 10. As SF Public Press reports, via video obtained of the sweep and interviews with some of the people involved, the group of tents was home to eight individuals, and in the process of the sweep, their belongings were illegally taken and disposed of.
According to Non Plus Ultra, the event company that has been managing the building under the name SVN West for several years, the tents were "abandoned," and the clearing was necessary because the encampment was blocking the sidewalk at a rear entrance to the building, and represented a "serious health, safety, and fire hazard." The company also said that the sweep was only conducted after multiple calls to 311 and the Department of Public Works were made.
Jonathan Huerta, a homeless individual who has been staying at the Civic Center Navigation Center nearby, tells the Public Press that he witnessed Peter Glikshtern — one of the partners in Non Plus Ultra and one of the original owners of the nightclub Public Works — approach the encampment several days before the sweep, warning everyone they needed to clear out.
At issue is the fact that the city has had a moratorium on encampment sweeps since the pandemic began — something recommended by the CDC given that adequate shelter space for social distancing doesn't exist — and this sweep was undertaken by a private company. (It's unclear whether all or some of the encampment was on private property.) The campers apparently asked that the city be involved, and they were seeking hotel vouchers, but they nonetheless began cleaning up some items and only holding onto their valuables. The sweep took place on Wednesday night/Thursday morning at an oddly late hour, and it's unclear why that time was chosen, or where all of the owners of the tents were, but at least one arrived on the scene and got into a physical altercation with Glikshtern, who tells the Public Press he was "hit in the head with a pipe."
Individuals cite the loss of treasured notebooks, one man's father's ashes, and musical instruments.
Facebook live videos posted on Thursday showed belongings like mattresses, bicycles, and bags being tossed into two unmarked trucks.
The SFPD, after apparently being called to the scene because of the altercation, issued an odd statement saying that "Officers arrived on scene and did not observe a fight nor did any person flag the officers down for any disturbance or other incident." And they add, "There was no party that spoke to the police who arrived on scene."
Civil rights groups have consistently gone after city agencies for confiscating and discarding the belongings of homeless people under the guise of public health concerns, etc.
Tori Larson, who works with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, tells the Public Press, "You have a right to your belongings. It is complicated by the fact that it was a private party, but it was a crime. You cannot take people’s stuff."
TechCrunch has distanced themselves from the incident and said they neither ordered nor condoned such an action.
It's unclear if anyone intends to press charges.