IF DIRT WERE DOLLARS


root - Posted on 26 March 2003

Vehicularily Housed San Franciscans Attacked and Harassed by SFPD-Homes towed, belongings confiscated

by Valerie Schwartz/PoorNewsNetwork Community Journalist

I remember living in an old International Harvester Moving Van. It was a 1948 that had been painted purple and converted into a R-V. I t had wooden planks for the floor and the walls were made of plywood. We had a sink, cutting board/counter adjacent to it, there was an old claw-foot bathtub and a wood burning stove. There were little porthole windows that had been salvaged from old washing machines, and a stained glass window. Even the roof above the bed opened up as a bed-sized skylight, a window to the heavens. No one, who lived and traveled in the truck was on any kind of assistance; we worked and bartered for everything we needed. Anyone could live in the truck, there was only one catch: you could not use money. I considered it a great learning experience... to live without using money and survive. Since then I have lived in my van , cars, and trucks through various times that I haven't had housing. I have lost all of my possessions because of being towed: all of the things I had left that were truly important to me... and things that could not be replaced. Unfortunately, there are folks out there right now, still trying to survive that are being harassed, having their homes ransacked and towed by the police for being homeless and accused of bogus charges that supposedly justify the means of the officers actions.

"There were officers in full fledged riot gear, shields and full faced helmets and shotguns. There were officers sporting snipers rifles with bullet proof vests...they even had a S.W.A.T. team deployed in addition to all the officers in uniform. Add to those plainclothes officers, detectives, inspectors and the like. I believe we can safely place the number of officers somewhere upwards of fifty." Frank Ryan, self employed metal recycler and vehicularly housed citizen of San Francisco.

"As a vehicularly housed person, I have the right to live in my vehicle, including: the right to sleep, eat, and rest in my vehicle." Vehicularly Housed/Towed Person's Bill of Rights, Coalition on Homelessness.

Frank P. Ryan and Bill Payne are partners in metal recycling. Frank and his girlfriend Trish had been living in a lot on Selby and Innes, that they oversaw, kept clean for the owners (Cor-o-van) and also kept their yards/lots secure and free of people who tried to stay on the property for extended lengths of time. In return for their work they were allowed to live on the lot and keep their vehicles that they lived in, worked out of, and kept their tools for work stored and parked in the Cor-o-van lot. Bill kept his motor home parked across the street from Frank and Trish on Selby St. Having been homeless and living in their own legally registered vehicles for several years; these friends forged a partnership in the recycling business. A business that many people depend on for their incomes. Let's call them an unrecognized workforce that is larger than one would imagine...

You can easily recognize them as very hard workers. Their hands are calloused and blacked from grease, dirt and metal. Their clothes also have the dirt of labor, the odor of grease and oil, and their faces wear the expression of disheartened, weary warriors tired of battle. These are definitely not men who do not idle their time away, it is easy to see that they work very hard for what little they have.

"They towed and impounded my vehicle for being eighteen-inches away from a non-existent curb." Bill Payne, vehicularly housed metal recycler and victim of harassment.

For the last year more so than the previous two, Frank and Bill have had ongoing problems with harassment and having their vehicles and property taken away by City Tow via the SFPD. Their bane has been Officer Swatco and his partner from the Bay View Police Station who according to Bill and Frank, have been harassing them and other vehicularly housed people in the area for quite a while now.. I believe this because I have spoken with other vehicualrly housed persons who have told me of their harassment by the same officers in the Bay View area. Frank and Bill both recounted numerous incidents to tell us at POOR, about the hostility and discrimination they have experienced at the hands of Officer Swatco and his co-workers.

"All lawful owners, possessors, or operators of vehicles shall be free from discriminatory enforcement of the law and shall enjoy freedom from harassment and discrimination in towing." Vehicularly Housed/Towed Persons Bill of Rights, Coalition on Homelessness.

On September 30, 2002 a search warrant, was said to have been served at Frank's home/lot. He was not present at the time and to date still has not seen the warrant. The first time he was aware of it was on October 2, 2002 when he had been released from county jail on a different warrant that he had been picked up and detained on September 29, 2002. This was the day before the warrant was to said to have been served along with the raid.

What happened was that SFPD in a commando style raid on September 30, seized the lot under the guise of bringing an "International Ring of Tool Thieves" under arrest and confiscating the alleged cache of tools. The way Frank and Bill described the scenario as it unfolded sounded like a war zone and rang of so many unnecessary police actions that in the end, after investigation: turn out to be no more than hype, but nonetheless frightening, cruel and without merit. There were no gangsters, thieves, Viet Cong, or terrorists: just homeless folk trying to stay off the dole. "We work for every dollar we get." -Frank Ryan

What happened to Frank and Trish's motor home and possessions was happening to Bill's at the same time across the street. The same kinds of damage and disregard. I wonder how much it cost the city to pay all those specialized forces for a humbug? Bill was present at the time and taken to jail along with his neighbor Trish, his dog impounded, and his vehicular home towed. Bill and Frank have both told me of how the officers were verbally abusive, sarcastic, and unprofessional in their behavior to Trish and Bill. The police kept making innuendo's and remarks that referred that they, the people whose lives they were razing didn't have anything coming because they were "tool thieves." The warrant was dismissed and all charges dropped. Except now they had to pay to get their vehicles back, repair the damage, and try to get their property back. This meant to once again start from the bottom, with next to nothing.

Yes , you may want to draw a parallel here because I am speaking of the same Bay View police station that was responsible for the police action that took place at Thurgood Marshall School not long ago. One might ask, who is terrorizing whom?

When Frank returned home, all he found was the aftermath of the unnecessary damage, and the indifference to his life, business. Bill and Trish were now in jail. All of their dogs were impounded too. According to Frank... although the keys were given to the police upon demand for all of the vehicles and locking compartments when asked for them: the doors were pried open, tool boxes on the truck were pried open, his motor home damaged that he used to repair computer systems and store tools, their trailer door was ripped down and folded in half and the other entry ways broke down and the floor torn up. His truck was damaged : the hood, fenders, doors, tool carriers, and both bumpers. After doing all of the aforementioned damage and finding nothing there, no 'International Ring of Tool Thieves" the police then towed and impounded his truck.

Frank said about his truck, " I have no explanation as to why they wanted it, there wasn't any stolen merchandise in it, it hasn't been used in illegal activities, it was legally parked, no tickets have been issued on it, but tow it they did."

"We are not thieves, we don't steal tools", Bill and Frank stressed while telling us of the ordeal that they have been through. They both explained that they have bought, traded and bartered to help get the tools they need for their work and to keep a back up in case one broke. Many of the tools that were taken in the raid were hand tools and their bicycles: the warrant was for power tools. The police also combine d Frank and Bill's tools into one pile without making note of what came from where.

I spoke to Mara Rader at the Coalition on Homelessness about the vehicularly housed folk in the city, and in particular the Bay View area. I asked Mara, "Have you seen a noticeable increase in the harassment, towing of the vehicularly housed recently?"

Mara said, "No, there has been pretty consistent harassment of people living in their vehicles since they moved them out of China Basin." Mara then relayed, " There is a particular focus in the Bay View neighborhood."

"Do you feel that Prop N has anything to do with this?" I asked.

Mara says, " I think Prop N added to a nasty growing sentiment of the citizens of San Francisco against the homeless."

While listening to the rain outside I was thinking of Bill and Frank and I empathized. I thought about when my van was towed with all my tools, ladders and everything else I owned. I had been a house painter/building maintenance for a long time and was temporarily houseless but not without work. I lost everything I had in that van. Without transportation, my tools, and a place to sleep...I couldn't work. It was only a matter of time before my life eddied into the gutter.

I remembered how I myself had worked until I was speckled like an Easter egg with paint, plaster, dust, and sweat. I paid for some, bartered for some and worked for many of the tools I had gotten for work which were not stolen. I knew the people I bought, traded , or worked for to get them (just as I believe Frank and Bill did). The tools were always used, but in good shape from people who upgraded by buying new ones for themselves. This enabled me to be more efficient and productive on my jobs.

I feel a smoke screen is being blown in the whirlwind disguise of catching crooks when all that is going down is an exacerbation of the war against the poor , homeless, vehicularly housed, people of color, and immigrants in San Francisco. The economy is faltering, jobs are hard to obtain, housing is simply not adequate, affordable, or accessible in San Francisco. Many people in the Bay Area are what we at POOR refer to as "vehicularly housed." Many of these people are self employed, or recyclers. They are living in vans, motor homes, old buses, trucks and cars so they may have a space. This adds to a persons margin of safety, not to mention keeps them out of the elements thus upgrading the odds against ill health and gives them access to self employment as a means of survival.

IF YOU ARE VEHICULARLY HOUSED AND ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH TICKETS, TOWING OR HARASSMENT: PLEASE CALL THE COALITION ON HOMELESSNESS
AT 468 TURK....(415) 346-3740 ...ASK FOR MARA OR JIM.

Update: five days after Frank and Bill came to newsroom at POOR: On Wednesday December 11, 2002 the DPW, Cal-Trans, and the SFPD arrived on Selby St. and razed the camps, tents, shelters, and towed vehicles of the homeless who have been camped under the 280 Freeway. There were even bulldozers and alot of manpower to ensure this action took place. Frank and Bill where there and now literally have no where to go. People were ticketed for being homeless, and also for living in their vehicles... those who had vehicles left. The City Council is meeting this afternoon at City Hall to discuss making some kind of legislation to protect the rights of the vehicularly housed in S. F. 12-16-02.

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