[Hpn] City battles thousands of carts

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Mon, 22 Oct 2001 13:43:31 -0700


**also see same article from SF Chronicle at:


City battles thousands of carts
October 22, 2001


SAN FRANCISCO--San Francisco is spending more than $650,000 a year to
collect, clean and store shopping carts found in public places, the vast
majority used by the city's homeless.

And although the city keeps the confiscated possessions for months to
protect itself from lawsuits, it has paid numerous cash settlements to
homeless people in recent years when challenged about missing belongings.

Consider the case of Lester Tobin.

In June, Tobin says, he neatly packed his property into eight shopping
carts, covered it with blankets and sheets and moved it to a sidewalk near
an Interstate 280 on-ramp.

When he returned an hour later, Tobin says, his belongings were gone--taken,
he believes, by a San Francisco Department of Public Works crew he saw in
the area.

Now Tobin, backed by attorneys from the Coalition on Homelessness, wants San
Francisco to pay him $2,950 for missing goods--including $1,000 for two
''Persian tapestry rugs,'' $500 for a Texas Instruments laptop computer and
$50 for silverware.

''I am upset that my property was taken and destroyed,'' Tobin wrote in a
claim filed with the city controller's office. ''They didn't have to do

Each month, the city removes about 1,000 carts from the streets. The carts
are taken to a city yard near I-280, where city workers pick through the
often overflowing carts, removing hazardous materials such as used syringes,
crack pipes, bottles of urine and clothing covered with bodily secretions.

''We find that over 90 percent of the carts have drug paraphernalia in
them," said Cesar Luna, whose full-time job is to go through carts with one
other worker, storing what salvageable material there is under tarps or in
plastic bags and throwing away the rest.

Belongings are kept for at least 90 days, although only about 1 percent of
it is ever claimed, said Mohammed Nuru, deputy director of the Department of
Public Works.

Tobin's claim irritates Nuru, who nonetheless has complained that city crews
spend too much time picking up and cleaning out shopping carts used by
homeless people who are not seeking help but living outside by choice.

The Board of Supervisors is considering a controversial proposal to give
homeless people a day's notice before city crews seize shopping carts left
unattended on public property.

The law was narrowly passed out of committee but faces a skeptical full
board today. Mayor Willie Brown dislikes the idea.


Copyright  The Sun-Times Company

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