About The Project


Stolen Belonging is a multifaceted arts organizing project which documents the belongings taken from homeless residents during the City’s sweeps, revealing the ways in which such thefts steal a person’s ability to belong in their community and the city. Using narrative-based strategy, art, and action, the project amplifies the call to STOP THE SWEEPS, asserting a RIGHT TO REST, and demanding HOUSING NOW.

Artist/Organizer Leslie Dreyer has been working with Coalition on Homelessness and a team of houseless or precariously housed residents who represent some of our city’s strongest homeless advocates: Couper Orona, TJ Johnston, Sophia Thibodeaux, Meghan Johnson, Patricia Alonzo and Charles Davis. Together, they collected oral history video interviews, photographs and insights from residents impacted by the sweeps throughout San Francisco. The Department of Public Works and San Francisco Police Department have been trashing people’s only shelter and cherished belongings in violation of human and constitutional rights, often also in violation of SF’s own city policies. Our growing story-based archive documents the loss of items necessary for survival, alongside beloved personal items which can never be replaced.

This project adheres to the guidance and tried-and-true methods of groups like COH, WRAP, and Poor Magazine who know that poor and unhoused people have the solutions to homelessness. In this vein we’ve asked those impacted by the sweeps to share what they imagine compensation could look like and how they think we should collectively hold the city accountable for the violence perpetrated against them.

Their number one demand is: STOP THE SWEEPS. Let them maintain their survival gear and medication. Let them hold onto the only things they have left in the world that give them some sense of security and stability. Let them hold onto their memories and personal history. Let them exit homelessness instead of driving them further into it. They have a right to decent housing in this city. THEY BELONG HERE.

We will be releasing video episodes and/or photos with transcribed stories weekly starting May 22, 2019. Each release will build upon the prior, culminating in a public art installation and creative action. Stay tuned!

THE PROJECT’s Process:

Dreyer has been designing creative direct actions in collaboration with COH since 2015, starting with our balloon banner action at Airbnb’s headquarters and the painted tents tactic used in our action against the Superbowl sweeps. Scott Nelson, a long-time COH member, uncovered that for the thousands of people swept for the city’s Superbowl party, DPW had only ‘bagged and tagged’* a handful of items, which meant millions of personal items had been stolen and trashed with no regard or adherence to the law or basic human dignity. This was the key moment that sparked the idea for this project. THANK YOU SCOTT NELSON!!!!!!!

Dreyer integrated a three-part training series into the process - interview and oral history techniques, creative writing, and visual messaging for creative direct action, so that the team could hone their skills as we built out the project. Huge thanks to Joseph Smooke and Dyan Ruiz of People.Power.Media for teaching camera and interview basics, and to Jadelynn Stahl for teaching creative writing and ‘patchwork poetry’, a process she’s developed working with folks to make powerful, collaborative poetic texts.

It took many years to find funding so that we could compensate the team, assisting artists, and participants. Everyone at COH, including contractors, get paid the same hourly wage. Huge thanks to the San Francisco Arts Commission for supporting this first phase of the project!

* “Bag and Tag” refers to the procedure SF Department of Public Works is supposed to follow when taking personal property (attended and unattended) during the sweeps. They’re instructed to bag it, tag it with identifying information, including the location/time of confiscation, and then store it for 90 days at the DPW Operations Yard at 2323 Cesar Chavez. This location is where individuals are supposed to be able to go and retrieve their possessions. The majority of people we’ve spoken to throughout the project have never recovered items stolen by the city when they show up to the yard within the appropriate 90-day window. Our team will expose more about this process during Episode 2, which will be released at the end of May 2019.