Breaking: hundreds with OccupySF ‘occupying’ building

Pub date April 1, 2012
WriterYael Chanoff
SectionPolitics Blog

UPDATE: Representatives of the Archdiocese have made clear that they will not make a decision regarding the building occupation until the morning 

OccupySF, along with at least 400 supporters and homeless advocacy groups, have entered a vacant ’building and plan to turn it into a community center. Participants served a free dinner, unrolled sleeping bags and tacked up posters in rooms marked “sleeping quarters” by organizers, and are currently meeting to decide next steps.

“Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland originally were providing food and shelter to those who didn’t have it previously. That’s the plan I think, to provide food, shelter and a space for political organizing,” said protester Samantha Levens, 33, a deckhand on the Alameda-Oakland Ferry. 

The building, 888 Turk, is the former site of Westside Mental Health Center and has been vacant since the closure of that mental health clinic about five years ago. It is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

It is available for lease through HC&M Commercial Properties.

About 400 marched to the building at 4:30pm, trailed by an former AC Transit decorated and converted to a protest-party vehicle by Occupy Oakland. The march had the air of an April Fools Day Carnival, complete with clowns, jugglers, and a man dressed as Captain America alongside people with bandanas and Guy Fawkes masks. Protesters marched from Union Square on Geary, chanting “homes not jails” and ”housekeys not handcuffs.”

The march followed a rally in Union Square, in which homeless advocates from Berkeley, Oakland and Sacramento spoke to the crowd, and performers including the Mixcoatl Anahuac dance group and the Brass Liberation Orchestra kept the mood festive.

The protest was part of a national day to defend the rights of the homeless with protests in 17 cities. Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which planned the Union Square protest, spoke speficically about Business Improvement Districts in San Francisco, which he claimed funell property taxes to businesses at the expense of the homeless.

When the march arrived at Turk and Gough, the site of the building, it had already been unlocked from the inside, and protesters on the roof held a sign reading “organize or starve.”

About 40 police officers provided an on-foot escort for the march. Officers as well as several police vehicles are currently standing by the “occupied” site, and declined to provide comment at this time. 

An OccupySF-associated building takeover occurred Jan. 20 just a few blocks away at the former Cathedral Hill Hotel. At the request of the building’s owners, police entered the building, and no occupiers remained the following morning.

“Occupy SF through the OccupySF commune has inhabited a vacant building for the purpose of creating a community center in the spirit of the buildings original intention, to create a center for health and healing,” according to a press release issued by the group.