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Squatters Being Evicted From Shacks

January 24, 1986

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A band of squatters has built a community of squalid shacks, complete with outhouse and pet cemetery, in a vacant lot filled with weeds and trash that commands a view of San Francisco’s downtown splendor.

For the two dozen squatters, the muddy cluster of huts is a safe, no-cost place to live in a city that leads the nation in housing costs. To city officials, it’s ″an absolute pigsty,″ a filthy health hazard that must be razed.

On Thursday, city officials gave the squatters a week to get out.

″They don’t give a damn if we have to go back to living on the streets, sleeping in doorways and on sidewalks,″ Albaro Gonzalez, 25, said Friday. ″We are a community here. There’s never been a problem here until now.″

An aide to Mayor Dianne Feinstein said the city is mustering social service agencies in an effort to find shelter for the evicted squatters, but the only step clear to the unemployed Gonzalez is trying to find a place to sleep in an area where the median price of a house is $152,000.

According to the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, the median sale price for homes in the San Francisco metropolitan last year was the highest in the nation.

″I’ll try to get a job and rent a cheap apartment,″ he said. ″But first, I’ll just look for a safe place where I can put a mattress.″

Some of the squatters have been living in the narrow lot for more than five years. Thomas Dalton, 52, said different people have called the hideaway home for a decade.

″It all grew out of proportion,″ said Dalton, whose round belly and curly white beard give him the look of a disheveled Santa Claus. ″When they cut down the weeds in the front (of the lot), I knew we were going to have problems. The health department didn’t know we were here before then. They couldn’t even see this place.″

Thick weeds, some 10 feet tall, still surround the perimeter of the lot, but the scrap-lumber roofs of the newer shacks are visible above them. Looking out from the weeds, the residents can see the downtown skyline to the north and the railroad tracks and elevated freeway of their industrial neighborhood nearer at hand.

Piles of mouldering garbage rise up on either side of the muddy path that serves as the shantytown’s Main Street. Beyond lie the shacks, collages of plywood, mismatched lumber scraps and tin. Nearby the pet cemetery bears a small, carefully lettered sign, listing departed friends like Misty, Little Fluffy and E.T.

Everywhere is piled the refuse of life without running water, garbage service or electricity: stacks of firewood, shopping carts, beer cans and old clothes. Old televisions sit about; some squatters use auto batteries to power TVs and electric lights.

Eddie Garcia, 26, used a crisper bin from a discarded refrigerator as a bucket for his shaving water in the Friday morning chill. The cheap razor made a gritting sound as it scraped across his foam-less face.

″It’s so hard to leave like this,″ said Garcia who, like Dalton, has lived in the lot for more than five years. ″But we can do nothing about it.″

City health department spokesman Paul Barnes said that once the shacks were discovered by the Department of Public Works, there was no way the health hazard could be ignored or easily remedied, he said.

He said the outhouse and pet cemetery are strictly against city codes and the garbage had attracted rodents.

The city plans to clear the lot and then it will be up to neighboring businesses - a bus company and a garbage disposal company - to keep it clean, Barnes said.

Meanwhile, the effort to find new homes for the squatters continues, said Don Leonard, special assistant to the mayor. He said officials were searching for a building where most of the squatters could move together and preserve their sense of community.

″We’re trying to make this transition as easy as possible,″ he said. ″It’s a terrible thing to get moved out.″

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