Photo taken by Laura Waxmann on May 23, 2017.

A blue blanket. A skateboard. A Nintendo Switch. A speaker, a stroller, a gray suit. Art supplies and fishing poles, turntables and a guitar, a chalkboard on wheels. A teddy bear.

These were among the personal belongings city workers removed from streets last year under the city’s bag and tag policy, according to Public Works data obtained through a public records request. Many of the items belonged to unhoused people, and were taken during street cleanings, police interventions, or “sweeps” of homeless encampments.

Under the bag and tag policy, the city can remove unattended personal belongings from streets; people then have 90 days to reclaim those items before they are discarded. There is no record in the Public Works data that anyone reclaimed the skateboard, the Nintendo Switch, the guitar or any of the other personal possessions listed above.

The data lists 766 individual items that city staff bagged and tagged in 2021. However, according to homeless advocates and unhoused people, city workers do not catalog every item taken. They claim that city teams do not always adhere to the bag and tag policy, discarding many belongings before they are ever recorded in the system.

Del Seymour, a formerly unhoused man who now gives tours of the Tenderloin, said that many belongings were not properly bagged and tagged.

“The policy they swear they use is totally different to what happens on the streets,” said Seymour. “Sometimes it goes straight to the city dump.”

“It’s garbage to Public Works, but to the people on the streets, it’s their belongings,” he said.

The data the city provided is short on details, but reveals some trends in the items taken. Scroll down to explore.

Public Works data indicates that the city bagged and tagged at least 45 types of transportation in 2021.

That includes 29 bikes…

… 10 scooters…

… 4 skateboards…

… and 2 wheelchairs.

City workers also took tents and bedding.

At least 21 tents were bagged and tagged…

… Along with 8 items of bedding, including sleeping bags.

City workers routinely took clothing too.

There are 32 mentions of bags of clothing…

… Along with at least 4 pairs of shoes.

The most common items in the dataset are bags, suitcases and backpacks, mentioned about 500 times. There is rarely any description of what is inside that luggage, making it difficult to determine how much and what, exactly, city workers have taken.

“People are losing their IDs, their medication, their phones,” said Kelley Cutler, human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness. “Their survival kits.”

According to Carlos Wadkins, who also works at the Coalition on Homelessness, the “bag and tag” policy has faced several legal challenges. Wadkins said that last year, eight people successfully sued the city in small claims court after their items were taken, although the city is challenging that decision. More recently, a volunteer for the Coalition on Homelessness won a $9,000 settlement from the city after his tent and other items were destroyed.

Wadkins said that sometimes, even after belongings are bagged and tagged, people are unable to retrieve them: “There is a history of people going to Public Works to find their stuff, and being told it is lost or stolen.”

In 2019, SF Weekly reported that belongings were being “thrown out, damaged by mildew, lost, and even, allegedly, stolen by Public Works employees,” with fewer than 20 percent of those items returned to their owners. The 2021 data mentions two instances in which bikes were stolen from the Public Works Operations Yard after being bagged and tagged.

“We are guided by our written procedure, which sets clear guidelines on what can and cannot be discarded and what must be bagged and tagged,” said Rachel Gordon, Director of Policy and Communications for Public Works, over email. “Please note, too, that a lot of times folks living in encampments ask our cleaning crews to remove items, either proactively or after they’re asked if they want to keep something or have it discarded.”

The Mission and the Tenderloin saw the most items bagged and tagged last year. For a breakdown of where belongings were taken, click the dots on the map below.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. Damn. Hats off to these heros. Keep those wheelchairs away from those dirty poors! Good work boys, make these people even more miserable! God bless America

  2. Housing crisis won’t end until, people are barred from owning more buildings than they can occupy.

    Also the medical industry needs a huge reform, so that those suffering from severe pain have access to safe medicine that they need, so that they don’t find alternatives on the street, which have exacerbated some people’s issues.

    Stealing from those that have very little is pretty low. ID and important stuff should be held so that it doesn’t make life even worse than it already is.

    This mess is the product of a society without accountability. A little corruption here and there snowballs into a bigger mess.

  3. As a former homeless person in the bay area, the only thing I have to say to the public services here is this: YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES. (Especially for the wheelchairs)

    1. As a housed person to a homeless person, the only thing I have to say to them is this: YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES. Put the shame where it belongs.

  4. There have been three different encampments on our corner in the past two years. None of the stuff was salvageable. Not sure where they’re getting these fantasy depictions, but they’ve obviously never lived next door to a hoard.

  5. I’m not a fan of dpw stealing people’s stuff, but let’s be honest. Those bikes and scooters were not in the hands of their original owners when dpw took them.

    1. “Those bikes and scooters were not in the hands of their original owners when dpw took them.” Said with so much certainty. The only thief I’m reading about here is the DPW. Your assumptions and demonization of the marginalized folks in our community are a part of the problem.

      1. It’s hard to give encampment dwellers the benefit of the doubt after observing their impressive collection of Baywheels bikes and rental scooters all around town.