SF Drag Queens React to Homeless Sweeps with Food and Clothes

Mamma Donna picking up a sweater at Tuesday's drag queen clothing drive for the homeless. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

Mamma Donna picking up a sweater at Tuesday's drag queen clothing drive for the homeless. Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

Some dozen San Francisco drag queens came together Tuesday afternoon to distribute food, clothing, and other essentials to the homeless under the 101 freeway near 13th and Harrison, laying out dozens of items outside the SoMa Streatfood Park and serving up hot meals they cooked that morning.

“Some of us got together and thought ‘Hey, let’s just do something,’” said Simone, one of the drag queens involved. “We’re hoping that this is something that keeps going.”

More than 100 tents have sprung up on the Mission-SoMa border in the last few weeks, and organizers said they were reacting to news stories that the city’s downtown was being swept clean of the homeless in advance of the Super Bowl.

“I am super angry at the Super Bowl pushing the homeless where they have nowhere to go,” said Jolene, a drag queen whose day job is in tech and said her industry is “partly responsible” for the homelessness issue in the city.

“We’re spending millions of dollars on what we feel is a very frivolous sporting event,” said Piranha, one of the main organizers of the event in reference to the $5 million the city is spending on the game.

The drive came together in just two days after a group of queens — who were frequently “lamenting the state of our city” — decided on Sunday night to gather as many donations as possible and head  to an area well-known to many of them.

“When I walk home after drag, they walk me home, they’re part of this community,” said Snowflake, another drag queen, about the homeless in the area.

Dozens came out to gather items and eat freshly cooked penne pasta. Jackets, socks, pants, shoes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, tampons, trash bags, necklaces, bracelets, and more were laid out on the ground for any and all to take, the queens flitting about helping some to lug away their catch or serving food to others.

One homeless woman, Anna Held, immediately went for the lone tent in the pile of items.

“Is this taken?” she asked one of the organizers.

“Go for it,” the organizer replied.

Held said she was in an abusive relationship and had suffered one of her worst bouts last night, when her partner ripped her tent and left her without shelter in the rain. The new tent, she said, was a saving grace.

“The fact that I’m able to have somewhere where he doesn’t know what it looks like — I’m gonna go back and cry,” she said. While gathering blankets, socks, and anything else she could use for the cold, Held jumped as a man dropped off a new winter jacket and asked if she could have it, tearing up when he handed it over.

“Oh my god,” she said, hugging the black coat and crying. “When someone takes everything from you, and then strangers come and give you something — it just means a lot…You guys are awesome for that.”

Homelessness has been a hot-button topic leading up to the Super Bowl. Last summer, Mayor Ed Lee said the homeless would “have to leave” the downtown area ahead of the sporting event, and just last week KQED reported that Supervisor Scott Wiener said tent encampments “need to go away.”

The topic gained steam after Fusion published a piece last week alleging that dozens of homeless people said they were being herded from downtown area to the freeway overpass, an allegation also recorded by government transparency advocate and blogger Michael Petrelis.

A Mission resident then started an online fundraising campaign to buy tents for the homeless, which raised more than $23,000 in six days, surpassing the original $2,000 goal. At the same time, two seamstresses from the Mission’s Praxis sewed waterproof blankets and recruited volunteers to help distribute them to homeless people citywide.

Filmmaker Michael Reiner also produced a video interviewing the homeless after learning that they would be asked to leave downtown for the Super Bowl. 

“I wondered about the people who’d be affected by the Mayor’s plans to move the homeless away from Super Bowl City. I wanted to ensure they would be seen and heard, even if they weren’t seen during the Super Bowl,” Reiner wrote in an email. “When I went out, I didn’t know what to expect from the city’s homeless. What I found is a community of good, kind-hearted people who are in a horrible situation and need support.”

The sweeps prompted a follow-up investigation from San Francisco Magazine — which found no evidence of official corralling of homeless people — and a column in the San Francisco Chronicle decrying the donation of tents to the homeless as enabling homelessness, an argument the homeless themselves pushed back against on Tuesday.

“That pisses me off,” said Mamma Donna, a homeless woman at Tuesday’s clothing drive. She said the city should focus on providing “trash cans and bathrooms” if they want the area cleaned up, and said she becomes furious when people “tell us we can’t have shelter.”

“We’re all products of our environment, and if the mayor and the people want to see that changed, they can change the environment,” she said.

Most were not interested in talking politics, however, content to sort through the clothes and shoes to fill black trash bags with new goods. Some stayed just a few minutes, gathering what they wanted and hurrying off to one of the dozens of encampments in the area. Others stayed much longer, chatting with the drag queen organizers over rice and beans or meticulously choosing the most useful items. 

“This is a big value,” said Kathy Scott, a transgender woman who said she is a domestic violence survivor and veteran. On and off the streets since being kicked out by her father at age 13 for being gay, Scott has been in San Francisco for the last three years but avoids the shelter system because she said it’s transphobic.

Instead, she tries her luck on the street, and said everything provided in the drag queen giveaway was “so useful.”

“This all is really, really good,” she said. “They care about us.”

Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

Photo: Joe Rivano Barros / Mission Local.

13 Comments

  1. sara zimmerman

    Blessings to all the people giving their time and money to help…..

  2. Crista Derzi

    Um no. Don’t feed them and they won’t come. So just stop it. And the Queens need get on the same bus as the homeless and just go away. We are trying to clean this city…

    • Scott

      Better if the heartless would go away. The homeless are just like everybody else, without the security of reliable shelter. Other cities have had amazing success with creating homes for the homeless. I’m saddened that SF city leaders have so far instead chosen to stigmatize them further with their myopic NIMBY approach.

      • David K

        Just like everybody else except for the shitting on the street, stabbing CHP officers, knocking over trash cans, stealing bikes, breaking into cars, etc. But, yeah, “they’re just like everybody else” (rolls eyes).

        • Julia

          Many homeless are:
          Veterans
          Lgbt’s that were kicked out of their house just for being who they are
          Mentally ill
          If you are going to stigmatize specifics of a few to an entire population, again you are part of the problem. In the least you have a human compassion problem.

    • Sabbie Crudup

      Capitalism naturally creates winners and losers. In other developed countries, they take care of the losers. In the third world, they let them go live in the slums, and sell bananas on the street etc so they can at least afford a bowl of rice at the end of the day. And that’s ok too. But in America, our solution, your solution is to pretend they don’t exist. Just sweep them under the rug, send them somewhere else, make them go away so I don’t have to think about them and they become someone else’s problem, pass some laws that make it easy for the cops to harass them. It’s disgusting.

    • How does it feel to have a little rotten egg for a heart?

    • Pamela Deering

      Ms. Derzi: were you born in San francisco? I was. And my opinion, as a second-generation native San Franciscan, is that the City was a MUCH more beautiful and fun and diverse place before all you yuppies and snoots came along (invaded) and took it over for your own selfish selves. The poor, the artists, the drag queens, the joyfully ethnic, the oddball, these are the people that made San Francisco the jewel that it was and is no more. It wouldn’t have been so attractive to you and your ilk in the first place if not for them; it would have been just another Peoria. Scott above is so right — better if the heartless would go away.

    • Just go away? Where do you propose they go? What about the drag queens? Where should they go?

      Mother Theresa fed the poor, should she have “gone away” too?

      You are a selfish, spoiled, angry, ugly little human with a grinch heart and a keyboard to hide behind.

      Otherwise known as a Troll.

    • Carol Hull

      Your comment made me gasp [literally] in horror that you could say [feel] that!

  3. With all the money generated by a world class sporting event, they couldn’t even think of a way to provide an alternative for these people?? How about establishing a short-term shelter in another large public building with emergency services, food, clothing and access to hot water facilities and bedding (God forbid the city actually do something permanent)? City buses could provide transportation. Since the city clearly wants to convince the world they do not have a problem with homelessness (at least nobody wants to see it) it seems like they should take responsibility for the impoverished people they have neglected.

    Meanwhile who takes care of the poor and needy? Drag queens. Society should take notice.

    • Julia

      Yes drag queens! A marginalized piece of society taking care of a marganilized piece of society. BRAVO!

  4. AlexT

    Sadly,the example of Crista Derzi’s looking *down* on the homeless is not the only sample poster child for ignorance. She’s just the most recent vapid contributor to the wave of Gentrification, which is the NFL sized billboard of hate and ignorance we area actually dealing with. Shes small in more ways than one.

    “These” people are a part of the fabric, for better or worse, of our community. We have Muslims, homeless, drag queens..I could go on and on. I suspect Ms. Derzi may not be, at base, comfortable with all this freedom and diversity, In which case, I suggest she look to one of several fly-over states with a more conservative and condemning habitats. Only if a person lived under a rock the last 10 years, could one actually still believe the totally disproved notions that all homeless people are gun totting addicts, thieves and hookers.

    Of course, substance abuse is much higher among the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Living hand to mouth, in the face of those kinds of circumstances/odds struggling for daily survival, what kind of person replaces compassion with judgement at that point? WE DON’T BUILD MORE HOSPITALS TO TREAT CANCER: WHY ARE WE ARRESTING PEOPLE TO TREAT THE DRUG PROBLEM?

    Subjugating people by herding then like livestock around without free will is not the answer. Actively Treating the problems, not the symptoms will help the ‘problem.’

    ~*~ a thank you note to the Drag Queen community~*~
    What an amazing display of humanitarianism. You make my heart warm, and I send you beaming smiles of pride and love~*

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