cop at protest
An SFPD officer yells among protestors to other cops during a march in support of World Homeless Action Day. Photo by Carly Nairn.

Police arrested approximately 20 protesters who broke into and occupied a vacant two-story building at 535-537 Castro St. Wednesday night. The protesters, part of a group of more than 50 people who had gathered at Dolores Park in honor of  World Homeless Day, marched to the building in an effort to draw attention to the needs of homeless people.

More than 40 officers, including some in riot gear, followed the protesters, who held signs and chanted “House keys, not handcuffs.” A “For Lease” sign hung in one of the building’s windows.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of the counseling program at the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, joined march organizers from the housing and advocacy group Homes Not Jails. A pamphlet handed out by the organization stated that the property owner, Leslie Natali, has kept the property vacant for five years.

“It’s insane that there are 10,000 homeless and we have vacant units,” Mecca said. “We are occupying it. If the landlord’s got so much money that he can keep it vacant, then let the city take it.”

The second-story residential space was the first to be unlocked by the protesters for homeless people and other marchers to occupy. Approximately 20 minutes later, the commercial space on the first floor was opened.

Protesters occupied the building for close to an hour, gathering in a room and hanging out of windows as people on the street yelled at police. Two people on the roof draped a banner over the side of building that read “GENTRIFICATION = ASSIMILATION.”

When a metal chain was dropped or fell from the roof, police took action.

“The persons that were up there had black hoodies and black masks,” SFPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said of the people on the roof. He noted that protesters who have vandalized Mission businesses in the past have worn similar costumes. “To avoid any further damage, officers moved in.”

After gathering evidence and questioning protesters inside the building for more than two hours, officers turned off the lights on the second floor. The protesters who were arrested are being charged with burglary and property damage, among other charges. According to Andraychak, the damage to doors, sheetrock and other property could add up to thousands of dollars.

Protester Alix Txe, who has been involved with Homes Not Jails for two years, said that she disagrees with some of her peers’ aggressive tactics but believes the group is doing good for the homeless.

“It takes all kinds of people to form a community,” she said.

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A Modesto, CA native, Carly has been working in the news industry for the past five years. She has worked with The Portland Mercury as an Arts Intern, The San Francisco Bay Guardian as a News Intern, The Lewis County Chronicle in Centralia, WA as a beat reporter, and was the student opinion editor for her undergraduate newspaper, The Daily Vanguard, for Portland State University, in Portland, Ore. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

Hélène Goupil is a former editor at Mission Local who now works independently as a videographer and editor. She's the co-author of "San Francisco: The Unknown City" (Arsenal Pulp Press).

Molly is a multimedia journalist, editor, photographer and illustrator. She has contributed to dozens of publications, and most recently, served as Editor of the Pacific Sun. To view more of her work, visit

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  1. I have to laugh at the comments from people. It was only a year ago that most people were anti-cop and pro-Occupy. I guess once it comes into your neighborhood, it is a problem…..otherwise who cares!

    Castro has the SAME exact reaction to homelessness…..they are for helping them, as long as they are no where near the Castro…..then the police become involved.

  2. I think the protesters are fools to break into private property.

    On the other hand, I remember that the building owner, Les Natali, has a long history of leaving properties vacant in the Castro and has caused a lot of problems in the Castro. For example, the Patio Cafe has been boarded up for over 15 years. Such a waste to have shops boarded up for no good reason.

    Part of the responsibility of being a building owner is one’s commitment to the community by making sure your building is fully utilized to the benefit of the neighborhood. As a small property owner myself, I think it is highly irresponsible to leave units vacant. I wish the city would begin cracking down on under-utilization of space in this small town, and blight in general.

  3. I’m sorry there are so many homeless in the city… but I would bet that a large part of them want to be on the streets! As for the property owner; it shouldn’t make a damn bit of difference as to how long it has remained vacant. That is not the issue at hand!

    If the city is will to negotiate with the owner on a reasonable rate then they could rent the place and let the homeless get off the street.

    But then why should my tax dollars pay for someone who isn’t willing to work for anything. Rather break and enter and then occupy by force.

    A strange world we live in!

  4. It’s funny. Even if those housing units were put back on the market, I doubt any sensible landlord would want to rent it out to a homeless person with no income. I don’t quite understand this protest.

  5. These guys aren’t going to gain any traction until they play the game the way the T party does. We are not in the 60’s or 70’s so the image has to change in order to get the kind of attention desired. As it is, the protesters look like a band of pot smoking lefty loonies, even if they are not. The “establishment” will use all means at it’s disposal to marginalize these protesters and discredit them as, “off the edge”. The trick is to use the T party’s own tactics against them, if the movement really wants to make a difference and be taken seriously.