SAN FRANCISCO - Homeless advocacy group Homes Not Jails has teamed up with members of the Occupy San Francisco protest movement in a coordinated campaign to turn a number of vacant properties near San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood into makeshift homeless shelters.
After a Monday evening rally honoring World Homeless Day on the steps of City Hall, activists spread out to neighboring parts of the city and occupied a number of empty residential buildings. The buildings, all of which were targeted beforehand, contain approximately 700 housing units.
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One of the properties seized was the former Cathedral Hill Hotel on Van Ness Avenue. The 600-unit building has been closed since late 2009 and was being occupied by around 30 squatters. The group has also taken control of a couple apartment buildings on the 1000 block of Geary Street in the Tenderloin.
The Cathedral Hill Hotel is owned by the California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), which plans to eventually build a $1.7 billion hospital on the site.
CPMC spokesman Kevin McCormack told the San Francisco Examiner he is concerned about the occupiers' safety. "It's pretty empty in there," he said. "A lot of fixtures and things have been taken out. They're going up on the roof and it can be unstable; that's a concern."
The protestors were allowed to stay in the building while the security guards on hand did a safety check of many of the rooms to make sure the building was still essentially inhabitable.
San Francisco Police Department Spokesperson Albie Esparza said that the department hasn't yet done anything to forcibly kick the occupiers out of the buildings. Those actions won't take place until representatives from the landlords file an official complaint.
The protest's organizers are quick to point out that, according to 2010 Census data, over 10,000 people go homeless on the streets of San Francisco every night and the city is currently home to 30,000 vacant housing units.
"You'll see people sleeping outside places that are completely habitable," protester and long-time squatter Matt Crain told the San Francisco Chronicle "We just accept the fact that profits are more important than people's comforts and people's lives."
Occupying buildings is a standard practice for Homes Not Jails. SF Weekly reports:
Homes Not Jails is a group that protests the lack of housing for homeless and low-income people by breaking into vacant buildings in San Francisco. They claim to have opened up hundreds of vacant buildings, giving homeless squatters a place to live since the organization was founded in 1992.
"For the most part, these types of protests are non-violent," said Esparza, "mainly they just want to get their message across. They rarely do anything that would hurt their cause and there's never any serious property damage."
As of early Tuesday afternoon, the squatters are still in control of the buildings on Geary; however, it's likely they vacated the CMPC-owned property early Tuesday morning. Although, officials on the scene said they had yet to do a thorough check of all the rooms in the hotel.
Meanwhile, across the bay, Occupy Oakland is just starting to gain momentum. After a group of about 500 protestors gathered for an assembly on Monday, a small encampment of 25 tents has sprung up in Frank Ogawa Plaza outside Oakland's City Hall and the protestors pledged to stay there for a long time to come.
Check out this slideshow of pictures from some of the occupied buildings: