chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 26 Dec 2000 14:45:43 -0700

S.F. Court Holds City and Shelter Provider Liable for Intentionally
Destroying Homeless Peopleıs Property During Mayorıs Chaotic Closure of
Mission Rock Shelter

David beats Goliath in San Francisco Superior Court: on December 12 a group
of 10 homeless people received notice that they had won their suit against
the City and County of San Francisco and Community Awareness and Treatment
Services (CATS) for damages related to property rights violations.  The City
and CATS committed these civil rights violations during the Mayorıs poorly
coordinated shut-down of San Franciscoıs Mission Rock shelter in November,


The plaintiffs in this action were homeless San Francisco residents, each of
whom was a victim of the rushed effort to convert the Mission Rock Shelter,
San Franciscoıs largest homeless shelter, into a 5000-space parking lot for
Pacific Bell Park. As the September 1999 deadline for emptying the 600-bed
shelter approached, the City and CATS engaged in a deliberate and reckless
campaign of property destruction. As a result, while people were forced out
of Mission Rockıs doors, their worldly belongings were thrown into Mission
Rockıs dumpsters.

Mission Rock ‹ which despite its squalid conditions had become essential to
housing San Franciscoıs homeless people since its establishment in early
1998 ‹ posed a major problem for the City as construction of the ballpark
neared completion.  In order to please the San Francisco Giants and maximize
profits at the newly-constructed ballpark, the City had to shut down Mission
Rock and turn over the property to the team by September 15, 1999.

Inconveniently for Mayor Brown, that date fell less than two months prior to
a hotly contested mayoral election in which the voters of San Francisco
viewed homelessness as a central issue. Facing the potential negative
publicity associated with images of a mass exodus from Mission Rock on the
day of the turn over, Mayor Brown, George Smith, Director of the Mayorıs
Office on Homelessness, David Lee, Director of Mission Rock, and others
acting on behalf of the City endeavored to reduce the population of Mission
Rock at every opportunity in advance of the closure. To this end, the
administrators at Mission Rock began ejecting residents for minor rule
violations, such as missing the curfew, and forced Mission Rock residents to
leave the shelter on short notice and without their property.

Each plaintiff was shut out of Mission Rock without being given an
opportunity to gather and remove all of his or her belongings. Many of the
plaintiffs believed at the time that they  would nonetheless be able to
recover their property because the stated and posted property storage policy
at Mission Rock required Shelter officials to identify, tag, and store any
property left at Mission Rock for no less than 72 hours.  Many plaintiffs
relied on this policy and believed that their belongings would be stored in
the Mission Rock storage trailer and that they would be able to retrieve
that property as long as they acted within 72 hours.

Each plaintiff made efforts to claim his or her belongings well within the
72 hour limit.  Most returned the next day to retrieve their things.

Plaintiffsı efforts to recover their belongings resulted in further
misdirection and humiliation at the hands of Mission Rock staff. Mission
Rockıs posted policy contained misleading and confusing information
regarding when one could retrieve personal belongings. Posted signage stated
³Revival times for personal belongings pulled are: 11:00 a.m. ‹ 11:00 a.m.
daily and 4:30 p.m. ‹ 5:00 p.m.² These almost indecipherable instructions
resulted in confusion regarding when and where one should attempt to recover
confiscated property. Also, despite their efforts, the plaintiffs all
ultimately discovered that the Shelter was systematically disregarding its
written policy and was instead discarding plaintiffsı property immediately
upon ejecting residents. In some instances, residents witnessed Shelter
staff picking through the property of ejected residents for valuables before
destroying everything else.

Besides the disrespect endured by plaintiffs, they suffered physical and
economic hardships due to the loss of medicines and other items necessary
for health and treatment, as well as clothing necessary for work or
employment training programs. Plaintiffs also experienced serious physical
discomfort as a result of the loss of undergarments, changes of clothes,
bedding, and warm wardrobe, and suffered the inconvenience of having to
replace identification cards or medical necessities. One plaintiffıs
wheelchair and artificial leg were taken. Finally, the Shelterıs unlawful
property disposal practices resulted in many plaintiffs losing
irreplaceable, invaluable sentimental items, such as family pictures and
personal letters. One man lost his mothers ashes.

The management of Mission Rock had a clear motive for destroying property.
The construction schedule for Pac Bell Park demanded that the Shelterıs
several hundred residents ‹ and their belongings ‹ be removed by early
September. This task would be made simpler if the residents could be forced
to leave gradually, a few each day, rather than if they were all remaining
in September. This is exactly what happened. CATSı Program Statistics chart
which shows 271 clients sleeping at Mission Rock Shelter on August 31, 1999,
documents a forced, measured, daily exodus resulting in 35 people remaining
at the shelter two weeks later, on September 12, 1999. Near the end, it was
much easier to destroy the property and turn away former residents at the
gate, than to hold property and allow residents to return to retrieve it.

The plaintiffs relied on Mission Rockıs management, including the City, to
provide a temporary home for themselves and their belongings.  This
circumstance was unfortunate for both the plaintiffs and the City, but the
City chose to pursue this temporary shelter policy rather than providing
additional permanent low-income housing. The City and CATS also chose
expedience over respecting peopleıs civil and human rights when closing down
Mission Rock.


The cases against the City and CATS took over one year to complete. The City
and CATS refused to discuss the matter out of court and were determined to
exhaust all legal and administrative procedures in an effort to let time
whittle away at the number of people bringing claims. In the past year, the
number of actual or potential plaintiffs dropped from over 70 showing
interest at the Coalition office in November and December 1999, to 40
bringing administrative claims in January 2000, to 15 bringing Small Claims
actions in the summer of 2000, to finally 10 winning on appeal in December
2000. At least one potential plaintiff died during the Cityıs and CATSı
stalling strategy. This is a typical tactic of the Cityıs when homeless
people stand up for their rights. Stall, stall, stall and people will get
tired of fighting.

But the Mission Rock plaintiffs refused to go away. Fifteen won at their
Small Claims hearing in July and the ten plaintiffs who appeared won the
appeal brought by the City and CATS in San Francisco Superior Court on
October 4th and 5th. The final Superior Court decision was rendered December
7. The ten plaintiffs were each awarded a modest damages award. The
Coalition on Homelessness, which assisted plaintiffs with their small claims
cases and which represented plaintiffs at appeal, was awarded attorneyıs

At the appeal hearing, CATSı insurance companyıs lawyer attacked each of the
plaintiffs, accusing them of being unemployed substance abusers who didnıt
own anything of value and who were just out to make a fast buck. The
plaintiffs, however, presented clear and compelling testimony and evidence
that substantiated their cases and refused to engage in the name-calling and
personal attacks brought on by defense counsel. In the end, the plaintiffs
proved their cases, the City and CATS did not present an ounce of evidence
or testimony to refute them, and the judge found the City and CATS liable
for tossing peopleıs property.

³I donıt care about how much I won,² said Willie G., when told he had won
his case. ³Iım just glad that we won after fighting for our rights for over
a year. Iım glad that the judge heard us and found CATS and the City guilty.
Just because they provide shelter doesnıt give them the right to take our
things or treat us like animals.²

The City and CATS created an avoidable disaster down in China Basin and they
didnıt want to deal with the consequences. But these plaintiffs stood
strong, dedicated themselves to ensuring justice was done, and ultimately
held CATS and the City accountable.

In addition to seeking damages through the legal process, the group of
plaintiffs is interested in changing shelter policy in San Francisco. The
group aims to expand and reorganize the Cityıs shelter grievance process so
as to allow homeless people a voice in shelter policy critique and
implementation.  Pushing for a monitoring committee to oversee sheltersı
operations and treatment of residents is one goal.

³I said my piece to the judge,² said Ernest L., ³and Iım glad I did.² ³We
are people, and weıre residents of San Francisco. We canıt roll over and let
shelters treat us as less than human. And we want the City and CATS to know
that we donıt want what happened to us to happen to the person who sleeps in
the cot after us.²

Adam Arms

I donıt consider myself as homeless! I am houseless, and believe me; itıs a
bad situation to be in for a teenager. Thereıs nothinı to do! And itıs very
embarrassing.² These words, by a fourteen year old living in a San Francisco
place on Saturday, December 2nd at Mission High School in San Francisco. The
event, which was mcıd by Black Renaissance host and Bay TV reporter, Janice
Edwards, put a face on the issue of homeless children. Adults and children
stood in an auditorium and spoke from their hearts. Before an audience of
close to 200, Jewnbug, a homeless young woman, added her words to those of
homeless youth, educators, and concerned citizens. Each person spoke
eloquently about a subject that is tearing San Francisco apart-the issue of
homelessness, and the lack of affordable housing.

³Housing is a human right and we shouldnıt have to fight for our basic
rights,² Jewnbug told the audience. ³Our society leads people to think that
they need material possessions to be successful. In this capitalistic
system, many are putting profits before people.²

Last July, several homeless advocates came together at the Coalition on
Homelessness on Turk Street, and decided to put homeless children first.
With that decision, Jackie Henderson, and Joyce Miller, (Family Rights and
Dignity); Jennifer Ferguson, (Hamilton Family Center); Mira Feess, (St.
Josephıs Village); Vicky Huey, (Homeless Childrenıs Network); Kim McMillon
(Creative Arts Book Company); Kathleen Gray, John Wilson and Paul Boden,
(Coalition on Homelessness); Tiny, (Poor Magazine); Liza Grisales, (A Home
Away from Homelessness); Krea Gomez, (Homeless Prenatal); and Reverend
William Myers became YOUNG VOICES, a group of community organizers concerned
with the plight of homeless children and families. The goal of YOUNG VOICES
is to collaborate with the National Coalition for the Homeless to implement
a homeless curriculum in San Francisco that will help young people develop
tolerance, understanding, and compassion for children and families in need.
Already this curriculum is in 300 schools throughout the United States.

To understand how YOUNG VOICES came about, weıd have to start at the
beginning, which was a small book published by Creative Arts Book Company
called Ivy: Tale of a Homeless Girl in San Francisco written by Summer
Brenner. As the publicist for Creative Arts Book Company, I thought, ³What
better way to publicize this book than by working with the San Francisco
Coalition on Homelessness?² Little did I know that what started out as a
publicity campaign for a book would translate into a movement for social
change. With the help of Paul Boden, and the support of Barbara Duffield,
the Director of Education for the National Coalition for the Homeless, YOUNG
VOICES gathered every Wednesday, beginning in July, to argue, plot, and plan
how we could put a face on the issue of homeless children. Young people from
Ms. Newman 8th grade class at St. Vincent de Paul, the Columbia Boys & Girls
Club, and local high school students worked to insure the success of YOUNG
VOICES. Businesses like Borders, McKesson, George Lithograph, Eller Media,
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Family & Childrenıs Services, and
CB-Solutions.net, donated everything from billboards to website design to

However, our biggest challenge was bringing the school district, the mayor,
and city officials to the table. We needed the entire support of the City to
make this event happen. While the mayor never really came to the table, his
staff did, and in a big way. Debbie Alvarez, the director of the Mayorıs
Department of Children, Youth and Their Families agreed to moderate the
eventıs panel discussion. Her first words were, ³I was 12 years old, and it
was 2 in the morning when we escaped our stepfather who had a butcher
knife.²  She and her mother and brothers ran to a cousinıs house where she
slept on the floor for two months. We all sat back in awe that this woman
could have the courage to speak about such a painful chapter in her life.
She made it real, and showed that homelessness comes in all colors, shapes
and sizes. Also, that a home, and your safety can be taken away at a
momentıs notice. 

Alvarez moderated a panel that included Myron Howard-Johnson, and Mari,
members of the Youth Commission; Supervisor Tom Ammiano; Sandy Close, the
Director of Pacific News Services; George Smith, Director, Mayorıs Office on
Homelessness; Toby Eastman, Homeless Childrenıs Network; Jewnbug, and
homeless advocates. The theme of that panel was long-term solutions to
homelessness. One panelist questioned how the City could build million
dollar complexes, and yet be unable to create housing for homeless families.
Sandy Close suggested utilizing closed Catholic churches as possible housing
alternatives for homeless teens. Ammiano stated, ³There is a lack of
coordination out of the Mayorıs Office. The local Homeless Board needs to be
empowered to do something, and then we will see results.²

What brought an immediacy to our work was the fact that the school district
recently loss $450,000 over a three year period in federal McKinney grant
funds for homeless children. Many reasons have been given for the loss, from
the grant being poorly written to the competitiveness of the grant funding

When YOUNG VOICES, asked the new Superintendent of Schools, Arlene Ackerman
what she intended to do about the problem, she stepped up to the plate.
Ackerman took money from the general fund to help handle the crisis, and
pledged support for YOUNG VOICES. She attended the conference, and spoke of
the importance of listening to what homeless youth had to say.  Ackerman
also told the audience that she ³wants to do more than the district has done
in the past,² including putting together a model program to educate children
on homelessness. 

The need for that support was well-stated by Tiny, the editor of POOR
Magazine. Tiny was homeless with her mother beginning at the age of twelve.
³One of the reasons that I didnıt go to school is all of our documents and
belongings that were required to get into school were thrown out in a hefty
bag by the marshals when we were evicted. The other thing is that the shame
which pervades the experience of kids about being poor and/or homeless. In a
lot of ways, the lies that I had to tell got too great.²

One of the most important things that came out of this event was that itıs
time to stop the lies. The City of San Francisco has a huge problem.
Currently, there are about 2,800 homeless children in San Francisco every
day. Of those children almost 50% are ages 0-5. And yet, many of the public
officials and people that can make a difference are not responding fast
enough to this issue.

For many reasons, itıs hard to count the exact number of homeless children.
Homelessness tends to be temporary. The number of homeless people is always
changing as some people find housing while new people become homeless. Based
on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Urban Institute estimates that 1.35
million children in America are homeless during a yearıs time, representing
39% of the overall homeless population.

In a City as beautiful and rich as San Francisco, each one of us has a duty
to make a difference in the lives of homeless youth. From big city
developers, corporations to socialites, everyone should ask themselves,
³What can I do to help homeless families find housing in San Francisco?² Do
we really want to lose our diversity, our humanity? Families that have lived
here for generations are having to leave because the rents are too high.
When will it stop? When are we going to say that no child or family should
be homeless? 

Kim McMillon


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107,
this material is distributed without charge or profit
to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for
non-profit research and educational purposes only.**

9000+ articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people
Year 2000 posts
INFO & to join/leave list - Tom Boland
Nothing About Us Without Us -
Democratize Public Policy
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415 / 346.3740 - voice
415 / 775.5639 - fax