Homeless Sue S.F. Over Golden Gate Park Sweeps FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 18 Jun 1998 22:53:15 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - June 18, 1998 - Page A28


     Yumi Wilson, Chronicle Staff Writer

       Tired of having his medicine stolen and of being threatened at a
shelter on Polk Street, James Barton said he moved to Golden Gate Park to
find peace.

       The peace ended abruptly March 20, 1997, during last year's sweeps
of illegal homeless encampments at the park.

       Along with hundreds of other homeless people, Barton and his
belongings were kicked out of the park in Mayor Willie Brown's effort to
restore safety to the city's crown jewel of parks.

       Yesterday, Barton joined about a dozen homeless people at the new
courthouse on McAllister Street to file small-claims suits against San
Francisco. They say the city violated their property rights by taking their
belongings and never giving them back.

       ``Homeless people are filing challenges to the city's unlawful
confiscation of their only worldly possessions,'' said Judy Appel, attorney
for the Coalition on Homelessness.

       The American Civil Liberties Union is also supporting the homeless
people's claims against the city.

       ``A policy that allows the city to seize and destroy the property of
homeless people not only violates their constitutional rights, but punishes
people simply for being poor,'' said local ACLU Executive Director Dorothy

       Elton Pon, a spokesman for the Recreation and Parks Department,
which oversaw the sweeps, insist that ``any property picked up in
encampments were taken to a central location where they could be picked

       The sweeps at Golden Gate Park were stepped up last year after a
series in The Chronicle found that drug dealers, addicts and other seedy
figures were taking refuge at the park.

       Barton, who declined to say where he now lives, admits that it was
wrong to make a public park his home. But he believes that the city was
just as wrong to destroy beds, clothes and other important things belonging
to the homeless.

       ``Don't tell me not to break the law when you're breaking the law by
stealing my stuff,'' the 50-year- old Barton said. ``If you want me out of
the park, then give me an alternative to living in a dangerous shelter on
Polk Street or a sleaze- bag motel filled with crack-heads and infested
with rats.''

       Barton described himself as a former chef who is suffering from the
effects of HIV infection and a recent car accident.

       He is seeking $5,000 to replace his belongings, including a bicycle
he said was worth $1,000, a six-person tent, two duffel bags, clothes,
family photos and medicine.

       ``I found some of my medical papers and schoolwork in a trash
Dumpster,'' he said. ``Everything else was gone.''

       Coalition leaders are hoping yesterday's legal challenges will force
the city to reconsider its refusal to give the homeless a 24- hour notice
before belongings are removed from public property.

       ``This situation was completely avoidable,'' Appel said. ``The city
refused to implement a policy which respected homeless people's property
rights, and instead chose to escalate its policy of illegal seizure and


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