On Friday evening, San Francisco police officers arrested a Coalition on Homelessness staffperson, and cited him with violation of a California state lodging prohibition for camping in Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro, settling a dispute over the duplicativity of new anti-homeless legislation.
In recent weeks, there has been significant debate in City Hall over newly proposed regulations for Harvey Milk and Jane Warner Plazas. Community activists, including many independent Castro residents, Queers for Economic Equality Now (QUEEN), and the Coalition on Homelessness, have argued that these proposed regulations are wrong-headed, primarily anti-homeless, and duplicate existing laws, including section 647(e) of the California Penal Code, which prohibits lodging in public places without permission. “Relegislation of the same things that aren’t working now keeps us in a vicious cycle of punishing homeless people over and over again for their poverty, but fails to solve any problems whatsoever. If it’s not working now, why do it again?” said Tommi Avicolli-Mecca of QUEEN.
In a hearing of the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Economic Development Committee this past Monday, Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the legislation, described a document by the Coalition on Homelessness which says that the regulations duplicate PC 647(e) as “misinformation.”
On Friday night, Bob Offer-Westort, Human Rights Organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, set up camp in Jane Warner Plaza and let the San Francisco Police Department settle the dispute. “I really had one of the nicest evenings of my time in San Francisco. I had expected to be harassed a little, but in fact, the neighborhood was very welcoming, and a few different housed residents who were strangers to me came down to my tent to hang out for a while. It’s nice to be reminded how friendly and welcoming people in this city are,” said Offer-Westort. However, after half an hour, Offer-Westort was arrested, hand-cuffed at Mission Station for approximately two hours, and released with a citation for violation of PC 647(e), a misdemeanor which carries a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, or both. “This proves that camping is already illegal in the plazas,” said Offer-Westort.
Offer-Westort requested legal representation from Supervisor Wiener on Sunday, but does not expect a response until Supervisor Wiener’s office opens Monday morning.
The Board will vote on Supervisor Wiener’s proposed legislation this coming Tuesday.