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HOMES NOT JAILS formed in San Francisco in 1992 to advocate for the use of vacant and abandoned housing by people who are homeless. With folks dying on sidewalks in front of empty buildings, affordable housing advocates and poor people converged to find ways of utilising such properties, making a loud public statement of their discontent in the process.
Homelessness & the exorbitant cost of housing is a crisis that many in San Francisco, the U.S.A., & the world appear to accept as "the way it is." There is even a myth that living on the streets is like a vacation. Unfortunately, the reality is far more grim. Living on the streets allows no privacy or down time. Street folk carry their few possessions with them, knowing that with one mistake they could lose everything they own. Police label homeless people “vagrants” – a word that sounds much like “vermin” - & look at them like game in a hunting preserve. Many in the community willingly & methodically sacrifice our artists, mothers, brothers, musicians, poets & children to this brutal & inequitable system. Homes Not Jails believes that in order to escape from the discouraging spiral of poverty, homeless folks need a respite to get back on their feet. They need a roof over their heads, a door to close to the rest of the world (if only for a few days), a hot shower & a good night’s sleep.
Twenty years later, despite excellent resistance work & community building by our comrades in Food Not Bombs, Homes Not Jails, the SF Tenants Union & other autonomous collectives, circumstances have gotten worse & not better. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded 16,827 vacant housing units in San Francisco. By 2010, that number had doubled to more than 31,000. Property rights continue to reign over human rights & people still die on sidewalks in front of vacant buildings. Owners & speculators keep these places off the market for personal profit even though their actions reduce the housing stock & drive up rents for everyone. Government & big real estate demonstrate their willingness to continue profiting off the hardships of everyday people — making it incumbent on us to take matters into our own hands. This is the definition of direct action. Homes Not Jails uses a two-pronged strategy for fighting back:
Public Action & Education: Homes Not Jails organizes civil uprisings called housing takeovers from time to time. A takeover is when HNJ & its allies occupies a vacant building or complex in order to dramatize the severe shortage of housing. HNJ also serves as a gateway for first-time squatters, more of whom wash up on the streets every day, & provides info & resources on finding & maintaining squats, proper use of tools, locks & lock-picking, foreclosures & home defense, & networking with our radical allies & resistance movements around the globe.
Squatting: Homes Not Jails opens up vacant buildings & helps homeless people move into them – because people need housing NOW! Over the years hundreds of vacant buildings have been opened, providing housing for people & reducing the overall dem& for housing – making housing more affordable for all of us. Many have lasted for years, many are still happening, & more will be opened as long as people are forced to live on the streets.
In 1999, an HNJ enclave led by co-founder Ted Gullicksen attempted to gain legal title to a property in the Haight through the common-law procedure called adverse possession (see FAQ). HNJ squatted the abandoned home & paid its property taxes for 5 years — as required by California civil procedure — but the courts denied the claim, demonstrating the bias of “our” judicial system towards property rights.
But we’re not giving up. If they don’t make housing affordable, WE WILL!
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