Homeless women, advocates leave vacant property peacefully; SFPD face off against protesters

Police responded to a vacant building in San Francisco on Friday after two homeless women and community advocates moved into a property they claim had sat empty for years. 

They are part of the group "Reclaim SF" and they are demanding the city provide housing to all unsheltered residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Police responded to the vacant house on the 4500 block of 19th Street in the Castro District for a report of people blocking the street. SFPD said some people had locked themselves inside the unoccupied residence. 

Police said the incident was brought to a "peaceful conclusion" at around 3:30 p.m. At least one person was cited and released for jaywalking, disobeying a lawful order and battery on a peace officer. 

Chanting, "Let them stay!", the activist group called on Mayor London Breed to use her emergency powers to open up all vacant properties and units around the city for people living in cramped conditions, tents, or on the streets as the crisis looms on. 

It was part of a protest against the city. 

"We don't want to see our unhoused neighbors die on these streets. We want to see them live safe and healthy lives. There are so many vacant homes in this city that homeless people can do that and we know that housing is a human right," said Sam Lew with Reclaim SF. 

Fueled by the movement 'Moms 4 Housing' kicked off when four homeless mothers and their children moved into an empty West Oakland home, 'Reclaim SF' wants the city to address the needs of unhoused residents who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. 

Candidate for the D-11 state Senate seat Jackie Fielder tweeted video from the protest showing SFPD throwing a woman with a small dog in her arms to the ground and detaining her. As many as seven officers helped take the woman down. 

"San Francisco police are out of pocket for violently detaining someone like this," Fielder wrote. 

"We think this house is better used as affordable housing to offer protection to our homeless neighbors," said Quiver Watts, an organizer with Reclaim SF.

She said the group was started at the beginning of April because the housing crisis was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The health of one of us is dependent on all of us. Over 5,000 people are homeless. I thought we were  all in this together," said one unnamed protestor. 

The three people who occupied the home were inside for about  three hours before coming outside.

"The cops told us they were going to use a battering ram to get through the door so we decided to come out peacefully," said Couper Orona, a homeless woman who occupied the home, "It's scary being a woman out here. We have to travel in groups sometimes."

Couper said she lives in her RV ,"The city has left us high and dry. Left us with nowhere to go. This pandemic, this virus that is hurting, killing and destroying people's lives."  

City supervisors passed an emergency ordinance last month to move homeless people into empty hotel rooms during the pandemic. Mayor Breed has called that strategy, "unrealistic." 

We contacted the Mayor's Office. Her spokesman Jeff Cretan issued a written statement that said in part: 

"We have over 1,000 people right now who are in hotel rooms that we have secured, opened, and properly staffed to help ensure the safety of both the residents and the people working at these sites. We've secured over 2,700 rooms in total, and just this week we opened another four hotels with 294 rooms. We're continuing to move more people into these sites every day as we respond to this pandemic."

"Right now, I just want all eyes on our city leaders and the mayor to see what they're going to do," said Couper.

She said police officers and sheriff's deputies treated her with respect.