Homeless advocates in San Francisco have teamed up to create a video project that they say exposes how the city confiscates the belongings of those who live on the street.
The project, titled ‘Stolen Belonging,’ is made up of a series of videos that can be found on the project’s website, www.stolenbelonging.org.
The project was put together by a group of advocates for the welfare of the homeless, including the Coalition on Homelessness and artist Leslie Dreyer.
For the project, the advocates interviewed several homeless individuals who alleged members of the city’s Department of Public Works took personal items like survival gear, medications and items passed down from family members like photographs and clothes.
In one video, a man claiming to be a former DPW worker alleged that the department failed to provide proper training on regulations and procedures for the sweeps. Homeless individuals also claimed that workers occasionally keep confiscated items for themselves, and that some go as far as selling them at flea markets.
According to the advocates, the sweeps, carried out by San Francisco police and DPW team members, violate the rights of the city’s homeless residents.
“These inhumane tactics and acts of theft don’t solve poverty. They push people further into it. We need our politicians to focus on preventing homelessness by stopping evictions. They should invest in services and housing, not sweeps,” Dreyer said.
According to Rachel Gordon, spokeswoman with DPW, team members who come to remove items at the request of police officers go to great lengths to take care of the items, but certain things they just can’t keep.
“We don’t keep food, soiled bed linens, a lot of that,” Gordon said, adding, “We go out of our way. If there’s medication, personal documents and photographs, we want to take care of those.”
The items are then ‘bagged and tagged’ and held at the DPW facility in the city’s Bayview neighborhood for up to 90 days. People with items being stored are given a referral number and can retrieve the items at the facility, located at 2323 Cesar Chavez St.
Although there have been incidents in the past of people trespassing or breaking into the facility and taking items, Gordon said those incidents were reported to police. DPW has also since begun storing the items in metal containers to further ensure they are not stolen.
As for the allegations by the person who allegedly worked for DPW, Gordon said the department had not gotten any reports of employees keeping or selling items.
“We take something like that very seriously,” she said. “If it is proven to be true, then we will take appropriate action to discipline the employee.”
Additionally, Gordon said that crews do get proper training on bag and tag procedures and that members are experienced in working with homeless encampments.
The Public Works Department is tasked with maintaining the city’s roadways and sidewalks. DPW also runs a Pit Stop program, which provides public toilets, sinks, dog waste stations and used needle receptacles in the city’s central neighborhoods.
According to Gordon, members of the public can report theft of their items to police, or report inappropriate behavior by public works workers regarding bagged items at email@example.com.