San Francisco Bay Area squatting scene report – East Bay Homes Not Jails is back at it again

By A. Iwasa

The decline of squatting in the East Bay has been one of the most heartbreaking signs of its rapid gentrification. I believe, without a doubt, this is a critical time for people to stand up to the moneyed interests by doing things such as squatting. Like Slingshot itself, whose roots are in the land struggle of People’s Park and the Haste St. and Barrington Co-op squats, we need to struggle for space or we will surely lose it. East Bay Homes Not Jails (HnJ) can be one of the many ways that we fight.

East Bay HnJ is a collective of squatters and squat supporters that meets Wednesdays at 7PM at the Oakland Omni Commons. Its goal is to open and enter as many vacant houses as possible, and keep them open as long as possible. Its politics are anti-oppression, and those who display oppressive behaviors such as racism, sexism and/or homophobia will be asked to leave meetings.

I first became aware that a new East Bay HnJ had formed around New Year’s Day, 2016. I was living in a rather large “commune” in the Mission District of San Francisco (SF) with two other people, and was so miserable I had taken to an audio book to help me fall asleep at night and get my mental wheels turning in the mornings. I had come to the East Bay to celebrate New Year’s Eve by goofing around with comrades, and saw a flyer for HnJ meetings at the Long Haul Infoshop.

Those mental wheels got turning the old fashioned way, and after my reluctant return to SF, I got my final pushes to get back to the serious work of the East Bay between the commune’s creepy “guru’s” attempts at micro-management, and loose travel plans with a freight train rider I met at Voku, a semi-monthly free meal in SF similar to Food Not Bombs in spirit, the next Friday. I packed up my gear and split for the East Bay.

The deadline for Slingshot #120 was also coming up, so I figured worst case scenario: I wouldn’t leave the East Bay after all and would be sleeping out again soon, but I had another newspaper to look forward to helping get out and my living arrangement wasn’t worth all the hassle.

Of course I hoped for a best-case scenario: getting back into a great squat with another issue of Slingshot on the horizon and all the East Bay’s other happenings. As might be expected, reality was somewhere in the middle.

Frankly, squatting in Oakland and working on Slingshot had been the two reasons I had come to the East Bay in the fall of 2013; having hitchhiked, rode freight trains and walked here from the White Castle Timber Sale Blockade near Myrtle Creek in Oregon.

I had been following the squatting scene in the East Bay for years in the pages of Slingshot, and though I had very mixed feelings about it, I wanted to come see things for myself. Similarly, I felt worst case scenario: I’d still have something to write an article about and then it would be back off to Arizona sooner rather than later, where my year had started.

At that time there had been an East Bay HnJ, but it had folded by the time I got to town. There was also an HnJ in SF, and some of its veterans are the folks who initiated the current East Bay HnJ. Though the squatting scenes in SF and Oakland are very different, the comrades are pretty cool and they are very skilled in the basics of scouting vacant houses, cracking them open and navigating the legal waters of occupying them.

Most of them are tenants now, but have been busy supporting squatters such as the Land Action 4 and other land struggles such as that saving the Gill Tract, supporting the Ohlone re-occupation last year and the civil disobedience earlier this year that stopped construction destroying the farm.

Also they are eager to share the previously mentioned skills; weekly meetings frequently include skill shares such as lock picking and key making.

Plus if more people get involved with the meetings and keep coming, we could start having more Away Team Missions where new squats can be scouted and cracked open.

At the check in of every meeting people are asked if they are housed and available for an Away Team Mission that night. The only place I’ve squatted in the Bay Area this year I was brought to through these meetings.

We also have a strong tendency towards sharing food and goofing around the way comrades can when you actually get along, so participating in HnJ has helped improve my life a great deal even if I’m still mostly homeless.

As one of the comrades told me about HnJ around 2013 in SF, “All I did was crack open houses and cook Food Not Bombs.” Sounds like a dream to me! But with the old membership requirements of showing up to three meetings in a row, then half of the subsequent meetings, I’m the only one who has joined the new collective since it started towards the end of last year.

Please consider joining, or starting your own HnJ Collective, and letting us know how things go for you all.