Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Thu, 27 Jul 2000 23:24:38 -0700

>Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2000 18:46:29 -0700
>To: coh@sfo.com
>From: "Coalition on Homelessness, SF" <coh@sfo.com>
>wm@videoactivism.org, Homewardnews@geocities.com, 
>gnn@grassrootsnews.org, sfzcoutreach@yahoo.com, 
>homelessworld@blazingstar.org, NHhomeless@egroups.com, 
>dwellej@aol.com, poormag@sirius.com, editor@sfbayview.com, 
>spirit@afsc.org, malin.speace@situationstockholm.se, 
>steve@unite-to-fight.org, rggoudy@pathlink.com, vandu@vcn.bc.ca, 
>Is San Francisco's new "free storage facility" just a scam for the 
>City to get rid of shopping carts owned by homeless residents?
>The lustrous glitter from the lattice of metal on wheels is a 
>familiar view to anyone who has seen Tom McNally drive his cart on 
>the roads of San Francisco. Tom's shopping cart is a vital resource, 
>as it is usually his protection from vicious weather at night and a 
>repository for the items he collects while working as a recyler.
>While sitting on Second and Mission Streets, attentive to his 
>earthly possessions in the shopping cart, Tom noted a writhen smile 
>on the face of the police officer who approached him. A 46-year-old 
>homeless person with an unattractive house on wheels, Tom had 
>perceived this would be an unfriendly encounter.
>"Hey! If you are not gone in five minutes, you and your damn 
>shopping cart will end up in the garbage can."
>When the storm subsided and Tom had regained his calm, he scrabbled 
>to hasten himself from the perils of the hostile policeman. Tom 
>stood up and prepared to find a place in San Francisco where civil 
>rights were still regarded as the foundation on which humanity is 
>built. As Tom pushed his cart, the policeman handed him a flyer, 
>which promoted free storage for his personal property.
>On June 15, 2000, Mayor Willie Brown's Office on Homelessness opened 
>a free storage facility in a building also used as a temporary 
>homeless shelter. George Smith, Mayor Brown's Homeless Coordinator, 
>conceived and coordinated the process of creating a space where 
>homeless people like Tom McNally could store their personal property 
>without fear of having it stolen or lost.
>After its fourth week of operation, the free storage space at 150 
>Otis Street has become the topic of much discussion throughout the 
>homeless community in San Francisco. My editor, Lisa Gray-Garcia, 
>and I decided to examine the claims made by the director of the 
>Mayor's Office on Homelessness, George Smith. According to George 
>Smith, the free storage facility was brought on line after many 
>discussions with homeless people in San Francisco, all of whom said 
>they needed a place in which to put their belongings. Smith has been 
>quoted as saying, "We kept asking them [homeless people with 
>shopping carts], 'what would you need to stop using a cart?'"
>A community organization that champions the rights of homeless 
>people, the Coalition on Homelessness, has surveyed most of the 
>people who use shopping carts and has determined through analysis of 
>the surveys the needs of the shopping cart community. My editor and 
>I were shocked to learn that the City did not tap into this vast 
>supply of information before it opened the storage facility on June 
>15th. Neither was anyone from POOR Magazine contacted, another 
>wealth of insight into the underpinnings of poverty. Since neither 
>the Coalition on Homelessness, nor POOR Magazine was consulted, we 
>began a to further scrutinize the intent of the creation of this 
>storage facility.
>During an interview with an employee of city government, who asked 
>to remain anonymous, it was learned that 'the City wants the 
>shopping carts off the streets'. This glaring wrinkle was consistent 
>with warnings issued by the Civil Rights Project of the Coalition on 
>Homelessness. The Coalitions' warnings came in the form of a flyer, 
>stating, among other things, that:
>"The City will take your shopping cart, and may bring your property 
>to 150 Otis Street for storage."
>The Coalition went on to inform people of their rights against any 
>attempt by the City to confiscate shopping carts by including the 
>following language in the flyer:
>"If you must leave your property unattended, leave it neat and 
>organized with a sign indicating you will be returning shortly. This 
>may or may not stop the City from seizing your property.
>If your shopping cart is marked as being owned by a store, even if 
>you are with it, they can legally seize it. You do have a right to 
>remove your property first. If the cart belongs to you, they do not 
>have a right to take it if you are attending it.
>If your property was confiscated by the City, you can check 150 Otis 
>Street between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday..."
>George Smith has gone on record as touting this project as a 
>convenience for homeless people with shopping carts. According to 
>George Smith, "One of my promises to them [homeless people with 
>shopping carts] was that we would come up with a storage facility." 
>He added that the storage facility will not be used to store the 
>property from shopping carts confiscated by the Department of Public 
>Works. However, he stated that this project will not prevent his 
>office from looking in the future at other ways of reducing the use 
>of shopping carts. In view of all the conflicting information my 
>editor and I had discovered while investigating this issue, I 
>decided to contact George Smith to ascertain from him the true 
>intent of this project.
>I asked Smith if he intended to develop this project gradually so 
>that it would be well established before the apparent purpose of 
>confiscating shopping carts would be realized. Smith replied, "The 
>City has no plans to grab unattended shopping carts and take them to 
>the new storage facility at 150 Otis Street, at this time."
>I then asked if that meant the City will never use the new storage 
>facility to store the property from confiscated shopping carts. He 
>replied, "I never said that," and reiterated that "The City, at this 
>time, has no plans to use the site at 150 Otis to store property 
>from shopping carts."
>I responded by stating that I could infer from that statement that 
>the new storage facility could be used at a later date in the 
>not-to-distance future to store confiscated property.
>I concluded my interview with George Smith by asking him to promise 
>me that the City would not, at some later date, use the depot at 150 
>Otis Street to store illegally seized property by DPW from 
>confiscated shopping carts. Smith replied, "I do not make promises."
>Does George Smith make promises or not? In an article written by a 
>San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer, Jonathan Curiel, on Wednesday, 
>July 5th, Smith was quoted as saying, "One of my promises to them 
>was that we would come up with a storage facility." Or does he only 
>make promises when its politically expedient to do so?
>Amid the wrangling between community organizations and the Mayor's 
>Office on Homelessness, the free storage facility has gotten a good 
>report card from the shopping cart community. People like Tom 
>McNally think it can be a model for other cities if it continues to 
>exist in its current state.
>Kaponda and Peter Flores
>Kaponda and Peter Flores are community journalists with POOR 
>Magazine. To learn more about POOR Magazine, POOR News Network, and 
>POOR's community journalism training program, contact Lisa 
>Gray-Garcia (la Tiny) at (415) 863-6306, or visit them online at

Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
vox: (415) 346.3740
Fax: (415) 775.5639