San Francisco police arrested 19 people working to draw attention to homelessness Wednesday, October 11 after several of them allegedly broke into a vacant Castro Street building.
Those arrested were booked on felony charges of burglary, vandalism, and conspiracy. A San Francisco Police Department news release put the damage estimate at “several thousand dollars.”
Police said people associated with Homes Not Jails gathered at about 5:50 p.m. Wednesday at Dolores Park, then marched down 18th Street, taking over the street and disrupting traffic.
At about 6:10, they broke in to and vandalized the empty building, according to the news release. According to news reports the building is at 535 Castro Street. The owner is Les Natali, who also owns the nearby bars Badlands and Toad Hall. Natali couldn’t be reached for comment.
Three to four people wearing dark clothes and face masks climbed to the building’s roof and started to drill holes in order to hang signs and banners, police said. A section of metal chain was either dropped from the building or fell to the sidewalk, but didn’t hit anyone, according to police.
Officers entered the building at about 6:30 to make arrests and prevent further damage. One woman who was trying to flee tripped and hurt her ankle, according to police. She was taken to a hospital and then booked into jail.
Others who were occupying the building “broke the lock to the rear balcony door and entered a neighboring business,” police said. The suspects were arrested.
It’s not clear when, or if, the district attorney’s office will formally charge the 19 people arrested.
Gay housing rights activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who said he was at the scene Wednesday night but wasn’t directly involved in the action, said there were 50-60 people there.
“Homes Not Jails is trying to make the point that there are all these vacant properties in the city. Why are they going vacant when people desperately need housing?” Avicolli Mecca said in an interview Thursday.
He said doing the action in the largely gay Castro neighborhood was important because of the presence of queer homeless youth in the area.
Avicolli Mecca said, “It’s always hard to say” how effective such tactics are, but it can lead to people “getting the message that this building should not be empty.”
He likened the action of Homes Not Jails to the tactics of the group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in the 1980s as its members worked to raise awareness around AIDS.
“It’s people using a certain tactic in order to draw attention to a very dire crisis we have,” Avicolli Mecca said. “… Sometimes it feels like it’s not being taken seriously in this city.”
He suggested that the city should fine building owners who leave properties sitting vacant for more than a year or two. He estimated that the property occupied Wednesday has been vacant for more than five years.
Avicolli Mecca also said he felt “really weird and creeped out” by what he described as a large police presence at Wednesday’s action. As for the charges the activists were arrested on, “Cut me a break,” he said.
Organizers of the action didn’t respond to an interview request sent through Facebook.
Those arrested were Bruce Allison, 61; Graeme Fisher, 22; Alexander Kerfoot, 31; Jeremy Miller, 32; Alisha Pelton, 24; Elisabeth Rapp, 28; Carmen Simon, 33; and Kevin Stolle, 27, of San Francisco; Carl Davison, 30; Robin Dragich, 22; Gina Krawiec, 21; and Christopher Macy, 58, of Berkeley; Brian Newell, 33, of Baton Rouge, California; Lindsay Frech, 24, and Nyle Sharkes, 23, of Oregon; Kameron Herrod, 20, and Marcos Vargas, 23, of Texas; Daniel Dauphinee, 22, of Canada; and Scott Barnes, 24, of Great Britain.
As of late Thursday afternoon, all 19 remained in custody in San Francisco County jail. Bail for 16 of those arrested is $325,000. Herrod’s bail is $325,378; Fisher’s bail is $328,000; and Barnes appears to be without bail due to an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold, according to the sheriff’s department.
Booking photos of most of those arrested are available at the SFPD website.
Witnesses are encouraged to contact police by calling the Special Investigations Division at (415) 553-1133, the anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, or text a tip to: TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD.