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House the unsheltered in vacant San Francisco homes, activists urge in May Day protest

Two homeless women and community activists occupied a vacant home in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood Friday, demanding that The City use empty properties throughout San Francisco to house homeless people and others living in congregate settings to shield them from the coronavirus.

Jess Gonzalez and Couper Orona, part of a group of ReclaimSF, occupied a building in the 4500 block of 19th Street.

The women called on Mayor London Breed to use her emergency powers to open up the vacant units, citing her refusal to enact the Board of Supervisors emergency ordinance to open more than 8,000 hotel rooms for the homeless.

The May Day demonstration was inspired by the Moms 4 Housing, the group who occupied a vacant home in West Oakland for two months last year to call attention to the plight of the Bay Area’s homeless and the region’s housing crisis.

Orona said in a statement:

“I love my city and I am there for my community, but the way our leaders have ignored our pleas for support is heartbreaking. We need permanent housing, and we need it now. We can’t wait another day.”

Gonzalez said:

“It’s outrageous that while houses sit empty, we’re unable to safely shelter in place.”

The women were joined by dozens of demonstrators from an earlier May Day car caravan that called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to cancel rent and mortgages.

At about 12:25 p.m. the officers responded to reports of people blocking the street, and upon arrival, officers determined the pair had locked themselves inside the property.

By about 3:30 p.m., the situation ended peacefully and the women were not arrested. Officers, however, cited one person at the scene on suspicion of jaywalking, disobeying a lawful order and battery on a peace officer, police said.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman showed support for the women’s protest and showed up after it ended peacefully and was able to speak with Orona.

Mandelman said:

“This public health crisis has thrown into high relief the vast social inequities and growing wealth inequality of our time. The requirement to shelter in place has reminded all of us that there are thousands of people in San Francisco that don’t have that option. We can and must do better.”

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