At 8:30 on Monday morning, instead of taking her son Jasper to preschool, Jennine Jacob and her three-year-old set up a tent on the sidewalk in front of San Francisco’s City Hall.
As city employees walked past on their way to work, five tents took shape. They were part of a protest Jacob organized called #CivicDisgrace.
“Today we are planning on having a tent-in, which is like a sit-in, but with tents,” she said, “to express our upset at the city’s inaction or slowness of action to helping the homeless.”
Jacob lives on Potrero Avenue near a homeless encampment. When she walks with Jasper into the Mission, she passes another homeless encampment.
“I’ve lived here for 20 years, and I’ve had enough of this neglect,” she said. “It’s on us — all of the City."
By 11 o’clock, eight tents stood in a neat line next to the City Hall steps. Sitting in one of them, Lucy Farey-Jones said she and other parents learned about the protest from social media.
“Honestly, I’ve gotten sick of hearing myself justify it,” she said. “‘Oh, yeah, these people don’t have a home,’ and my kids would say, ‘Well that’s crazy. Why do they have to live on the streets?’ Not being able to come up with a credible answer is one of the reasons why I decided to do this.”
The protesters were hoping the tent-in would start a dialogue with Mayor Ed Lee and his staff. And it worked. Jeff Kositsky, the director of the city’s first Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, came out to talk with the demonstrators.
Jennine Jacob told him she wanted immediate action to give homeless people a place to live. Kositsky said the city’s in a mess because for the past 30 years, federal, state and local policies haven’t worked together, and it’s taking time to sort it out.
They talked for about 20 minutes. Then he went back inside City Hall for a meeting, and the protesters sat back down on the sidewalk.
Around 2 o’clock, the protesters took down their tents and went back to their regular lives. But for one day, anyway, they had the city’s ear. Lucy Farey-Jones said it’s a good start.
“I don’t know what effect all this will have,” she said, “but I certainly feel better already having done something.”