UPDATED: September 15, 2020 9:28 p.m. Adds a statement from the editor of TechCrunch to the fourth paragraph.
Non Plus Ultra, a company that provides event space for TechCrunch’s Disrupt, an influential trade show for tech startups that kicked off yesterday and typically draws thousands of attendees, conducted an independent sweep of a tent encampment for the homeless in outside one of its San Francisco locations last week.
The incident, which was not sanctioned by the city, occurred early Thursday, September 10, behind a former Honda dealership on Market Street that was converted into a Non Plus Ultra event space. The sweep in the middle of the night displaced eight people, according to a resident of the nearby shelter who was friends with many camp residents.
A team got rid of everyone’s belongings, taking them away in unmarked trucks. The sweep was observed by San Francisco Police Department officers, who made no attempt to prevent the sweep, according to multiple witnesses at the scene. Police confirmed officers were dispatched to the scene, but said they did not speak to anyone and no incident report was made.
“TechCrunch did not participate in or request” the sweep, editor Matthew Panzarino said in an emailed statement noting that the company is taking the matter “very seriously.” He added: “We were not consulted or informed of this action, which we will never tolerate.”
San Francisco’s practice of sweeping tent encampments ceased in March, when the city’s Operation Healthy Streets team announced it would suspend the seizure of tents and personal effects due to the pandemic. As a result, the community that grew along 12th Street had been there for months.
“I’ve been here since March 18 in this very creepy place,” said Jeffery McLemore, one of the residents whose property was seized. “They took everything. They left nothing.
Tori Larson of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, which is investigating the case, called the sweep “patently illegal”.
“You are entitled to your property,” Larson said. “It’s complicated by the fact that it was a private party, but it was a crime. You can’t take people’s things. There can certainly be charges against the company.
Non Plus Ultra signed a lease on the former car dealership and converted it into event space in 2018, christening it SVN West. This week, the site is being used to host TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference, which features a “startup battlefield” where new companies compete for a $100,000 prize. Although Disrupt is screened virtually, the event space is used as a filming stage for the event. Tickets for Disrupt range from $75 to $545.
The sweep was carried out because the tents were abandoned, blocking the sidewalk at the back of the building and posed a “serious health, safety and fire hazard”, Non Plus Ultra said in an email. at San Francisco Public Press.
A few days before the sweep, Jonathan Huerta, a resident of the Civic Center Navigation Center, located across from SVN West, saw Non Plus Ultra partner Peter Glikshtern approach the group to warn them that they were going to have to move. Huerta said camp residents agreed, but asked him to drive through town, hoping they would be connected to services or receive hotel vouchers. They began clearing the camp in anticipation of the city’s arrival, getting rid of superfluous items and keeping only what was of value.
Trumpet, violins, lost money
They were unprepared for the middle of the night sweep by a private company. When asked why the work was done after midnight, Glikshtern replied. “It was just the easiest and most convenient time to do it.”
During the sweep, people lost everything. Huerta said the tents contained money from stimulus and unemployment checks, survival gear and personal items. A man has lost a jacket his father gave him. Another, a sentimental notebook. Another, an urn containing her father’s ashes. Huerta lost materials he had stored at the camp to repair his truck.
“They all had masks on and a whole intimidation effect,” Huerta said of the crew. “They walked over to the tents, opened them and started taking people’s things.”
McLemore said he lost two violins that belonged to his daughter, a trumpet, a moped, high-end auto parts and $11,000 in unemployment benefits he kept out of the bank due to mistrust to financial institutions.
Huerta said residents of the encampment were frantic, trying to recover their belongings. McLemore and Huerta said Glikshtern began to fight with one of the residents during the sweep and smothered him.
“There was a fight and I got hit in the head with a pipe, which was no fun,” Glikshtern said. He didn’t elaborate on the strangulation comment.
Someone called the police for help. “Officers arrived at the scene and did not observe a fight and no one reported the officers for any disturbances or other incidents,” San Francisco Police Department spokesman Robert Rueca said. “Neither party spoke to the police who arrived at the scene.”
Huerta and McLemore said that was not the case. They both said the officers pulled Glikshtern aside when the police showed up. Glikshtern confirmed he was searched, saying a fake call was made indicating he had a gun. In total, he said, police showed up three times during the operation.
After the police did not find a gun on Glikshtern, they let him go. “The next thing I know [the police officers] walk with him, knock on tents telling everyone they have to leave,” Huerta said. “In 30 minutes, everything was gone.”
Two Facebook Live videos of the event posted at 12:14 a.m. corroborated many of Huerta’s and McLemore’s claims. We see workers filling two unmarked trucks with mattresses, tents, bicycles and bags.
“These people are not DPW, they are stealing the things of these homeless people,” the video’s narrator, Mary Mac Bortolussi, can be heard saying. “There’s no way these people can get their stuff back. The police simply allow these men to confiscate all the property of these homeless people. »
A truck left the scene. The second led to the back of SVN West with people’s belongings inside. In the final minutes of Bortolussi’s second Facebook Live video, Glikshtern can be seen waving to workers after work is done.
“It was garbage, so it was taken to the landfill,” Glikshtern said when asked where the items had been taken.
Complaints to municipal agencies
Non Plus Ultra defended the sweep saying: “Tents were only removed after contacting DPW over 50 times, SFPD not urgent a number of times.” In addition to health and safety concerns, the company said it must pressure wash sidewalks and paint graffiti, per city requirements.
A search of data from 311, the city’s one-stop hotline, revealed a handful of complaints about the encampment in recent months. The city responded to some of them. Although sweepings have paused during the pandemic, Public Works crews are still deployed to camps to clean around tents.
On July 11, a complaint about the camp was resolved with the note “status is case transferred – area has been cleared around the camp; referred to the police department.
Two reports of graffiti on the Non Plus Ultra building at 10 South Van Ness Ave. – one on August 21 and a second on September 2 – were marked as resolved by the city, with the note “During shelter-in-place, requests for inspection of graffiti on private property are not considered a duty essential. Accordingly, we will defer this inspection until shelter-in-place has been lifted.
The aftermath of the Non Plus Ultra sweep, Huerta said, has been incredibly difficult for those who lost everything. “When you live on the streets and you have nothing, and someone comes in and steals all your stuff and laughs at you, it puts them in a worse situation than before,” he said. . . He also lost property in the sweep, including car repair parts he stored there with friends.
He filed a complaint with the police for the theft of his objects.
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights is investigating the incident. Larson said they could each be entitled to $25,000 in compensation under California’s Tom Bane civil rights law, which can be deployed when a person’s legal rights are denied by “threats, intimidation or coercion”.
“It’s so egregious to do this under cover of night,” Larson said. “The facts could not be more heartbreaking and disturbing. It is an injustice of self-defense.
CORRECTION September 15, 2020, 10:28 p.m. Corrects Non Plus Ultra’s role in Disrupt to that of event space provider.