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TJ Johnston

Street journalist since 2000

Location icon United States

Through explanatory journalism and commentary, I cover homelessness and housing as public policy, human interest and civil rights issues. My reportage is informed by ground truth, as opposed to spin from political and media figures.

Publications include San Francisco Public Press, Street Sheet, Street Spirit, Poor News Network and Newsdesk.org, among other San Francisco Bay Area-based publications.

I've covered enforcement of laws on and prosecutions against street people, hate crimes committed against homeless people due to their status and the difficulties of accessing shelter services. I've also written critical analysis on press coverage of homelessness.

In addition, I cover local politics, including developments in finding a replacement for San Francisco's departing mayor.

Portfolio
Street Sheet
11/01/2019
What I Saw at the Homeless Revolution: 30 Years of Street Sheet

Since 2001, I’ve been involved with Street Sheet in some capacity — then as a freelancer, and now as a sort-of managing editor — but my relationship with the Coalition on Homelessness’s newspaper began long before it printed my first article that year.

Street Sheet
07/02/2019
Belonging(s) Stolen in San Francisco Sweeps

The homeless property yard at the San Francisco Department of Public Works saw an unusually busy Saturday afternoon on June 22, more activity than the workers anticipated. Eleven unhoused City residents — joined by about 100 supporters of unhoused people — attempted to reclaim property that Public Works crews seized during sweeps of outdoor encampments earlier this year to where it was supposedly stored.

Street Sheet
03/15/2019
A-Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Who would have thought talking about the weather could be so intense? San Francisco officials and community members weren’t just interested in small talk, though. The Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee held a three hour-plus hearing on March 7 about the cold and wet weather policy for homeless people. But while the hearing was about the bad weather protocols, it didn’t take long for it to become a forum on the City’s heavy-handed practice of sweeping homeless encampments —...

Street Sheet
02/19/2019
Limbo at the Drop-In

It’s 4 p.m. and I’ve been waiting two hours already to get a seat at the MSC South drop-in. I spent the last two hours outside waiting in line with about 10 or 12 other homeless people ahead of me — that is, if nobody cuts ahead.

Street Sheet
10/01/2018
Seizure of Homeless Artist's Prints an Exhibit of Injustice by CIty

Ronnie Goodman, a 58-year-old homeless artist, was arrested near the Redstone Building on 16th and Mission streets when he jumped on a Department of Public Works truck to retrieve 50 linocut pieces he created — and the rugs and boards he shelters himself with — that City workers seized.

Street Sheet
09/14/2018
Costa Renting Not So High Under Prop. 10

An alliance of tenant organizations is demanding a “full repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, nothing less.” That could happen if enough Californians approve Proposition 10, the Affordable Housing Act. It would empower the city of San Francisco to pass its own rent-stabilization ordinances. It could also give residents a fighting chance to stay in their homes.

Street Sheet
07/06/2018
Safety and Dignity by the Water

By publication time, the votes in last month’s special mayoral election will show that London Breed has prevailed. As San Francisco’s mayor, she will own the City’s response to homelessness, just as her immediate predecessors, Mark Farrell and the late Ed Lee, did.

Street Sheet
05/02/2018
An Aggressive Turn in Encampment Sweeps

Mark Farrell’s abbreviated term as mayor will apparently be defined by one thing — the removal of tent dwellings from homeless San Franciscans. If so, that definitive moment came April 25, when otherwise unhoused people who have erected tents and other improvised shelters were swept out of an area under the U.S. Highway 101 overpass in the latest of street evictions.

Street Sheet
02/05/2018
Architecture Designed to Keep Homeless People Away

Last December, the San Francisco Department of Public Works placed boulders at the site of a tent settlement near Cesar Chavez Street and Potrero Avenue to prevent homeless people from putting up tents. This latest development in the City’s attempts of removing encampments drew media attention and criticism from homeless advocates, including comparison to a London apartment building with 17-inch long spikes embedded in the pavement by the building’s alcove.

Street Sheet
12/15/2017
The U.N. Investigates Poverty and Human Rights in San Francisco

The topic of homelessness is often addressed as an economic, health, or safety issue. But a special investigator from the United Nations came to San Francisco on December 6 to hear from community members with a take not often heard from officials in the U.S.: the human rights of homeless people.

Street Sheet
12/15/2017
Camp Swept One Day After U.N. Visit

In one of the most recent forced relocations of encamped residents of San Francisco, the City has swept an encampment on San Bruno Avenue and Division Street hours after a U.N. official visited the residents, Street Sheet has learned.

Street Sheet
11/06/2017
Clearing the Snakepit

The route to the Snakepit homeless encampment is as circuitous as the name suggests. Taking Muni in any direction involves a stop requiring a 10-minute walk to Seventh and King streets in what’s now called the Mission Bay neighborhood. That trip concludes with a dead end that’s fenced off by the Caltrain line and shadowed by the Interstate 280 overpass. This is — or was — the terrain that made the Snakepit one of the longest surviving camps while the City disbanded several other...

Street Sheet
10/02/2017
No Resolution for San Francisco's Tent Encampments

After months of undertaking, all of the encampments in San Francisco’s Mission District have been “resolved” — in other words, moved off the sidewalks. Or at least that’s what Street Sheet learned from recently acquired documents by the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

Street Sheet
06/16/2017
City's Funding for Homelessness Ignores Nonprofits' Requests

Three months ago, a team of homeless service providers sent to the City a proposal for housing San Francisco residents without a home and keeping others housed. On June 1, Mayor Ed Lee replied. The response was essentially, “yes to some, no to others.”

Street Sheet
06/02/2017
The Case for Beds in the Bayview

It’s Friday afternoon at the drop-in center known as Mother Brown’s on the corner of Jennings Street and Van Dyke Avenue. Despite the iron-gated door fronting the entrance, people drop in freely to check their mail, take a shower, do laundry, or chill out in the reception area. For a nominal fee, Mother Brown’s rents out lockers. Gwendolyn Westbrook, the director of the United Council of Human Services — the official name of Mother Brown’s — as well as staff describe the place as a...

Street Sheet
02/01/2017
Where New Supervisors Stand on Homelessness

Just like the ones before, the latest class of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will have to tangle with the city’s homelessness crisis. And the four newest supervisors could play a key role.

Street Sheet
11/20/2016
Saying Goodbye to C.W.

In the column where C.W. Nevius announced his impending departure, he speculated on a celebratory dance performed by Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes Street Sheet. He also linked this musing to an open letter he published, lambasting the Coalition’s decades-long efforts to serve, empower and advocate for the homeless community that he concurrently maligned.

Medium
07/29/2016
SF Homeless Project Roundup: A Review of San Francisco's Media Blitz on Homelessness

Up to 10,000 homeless people counted. Over 70 news-gathering organizations. One week. Recently, an ambitious media project to examine the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to homelessness was launched, filling dozens of minutes in broadcast airtime, hundreds of column inches in print and gigabits per second in bandwidth in the last week of June.

The Street Spirit
07/19/2016
Criminalizing Homelessness Cost $20 Million in S.F.

In 2015, San Francisco spent $20.6 million enforcing so-called "quality of life" ordinances for more than 60,000 incidents, according a recent city budgetary analysis. And the level of enforcement is costly, with little to show for it, according to a member of the Board of Supervisors and advocates for homeless people who spoke in a June 15 media briefing at City Hall.

Street Sheet
07/01/2016
Battle on the Ballot: Criminalizing Camping

Advocates for homeless people in San Francisco are responding to one lawmaker’s ballot proposal to break homeless encampments with 24 hours’ notice with a competing plan from another lawmaker.

Medium
06/29/2016
Amplifying the voices of homeless people - SF Homeless Project

Recently, I was at City Hall to cover a media briefing for the Street Sheet, the homeless paper published twice monthly by the Coalition on Homelessness and sold by mostly homeless vendors. There, I spoke to a young homeless woman who got ticketed under San Francisco's sit-lie law while she was avoiding a group of drunken rowdies.

The San Francisco Examiner
06/29/2016
Searching for solutions at Project Homeless Connect

People at a recent gathering in San Francisco's Bayview District bandied about possible solutions to homelessness, among them a guaranteed income and stronger tenant protections. But the folks who proffered these ideas weren't the usual policy wonks, media pundits or tweedy academics who typically and freely espouse their opinions.

The Street Spirit
01/15/2016
Activists Block New Jails in Bay Area

No new jails will be built - that's the clear message that activists sent to lawmakers in two Bay Area cities, and one that was heeded. In a unanimous vote on December 15, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors turned down $80 million in state funds to pay for a jail with 384 extra beds.

Street Sheet
08/01/2015
Controversial Jail Nears Approval

The San Francisco County Jail system is closer to expansion, despite objections that the expansion would be too costly, and opposition from advocates of currently and formerly incarcerated people, as well as homeless people.

The Street Spirit
07/14/2015
Anti-Homeless Laws Push People Further into Poverty

In the span of one month, police in San Francisco ordered Beti to move off the sidewalk at least 10 times. The 75-year-old retired nurse - who asked that his last name not be used - recalled his most recent displacement occurring at 5 a.m. at the hands of the authorities.

The Street Spirit
05/07/2015
Right To Rest Legislation Held Over in State Senate

The Right to Rest Act, California Senate Bill 608, which would decriminalize sleep, rest, the sharing of food and prayer, was pulled from committee without a vote. But the struggle for the bill in California will continue next year. For now, SB 608 has been delayed after State Sen.

The Street Spirit
03/10/2015
An SRO Hotel Is Hardly a Home in San Francisco

Families living in 8-by-10-feet rooms. Drug dealing in the hallways. Vermin crawling in the rooms. Managers threatening tenants and visitors. Such conditions in the single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels that house upwards of 30,000 people in San Francisco scarcely make these abodes welcoming.

The Street Spirit
01/02/2001
Nonprofit Execs Get Rich Off Homelessness

Voters frequently tell pollsters that homelessness is San Francisco's foremost problem. In response, politicians spend their days dumping money into social service programs designed to help street-dwellers - and more cynically, policing strategies designed to drive them out of town.

Street Sheet
01/15/2015
Suspects in Beating Death of Homeless Man Remain At Large

This much is known: On Nov. 23, a 67-year-old disabled homeless man was beaten to death while sleeping in an alley near Sutter and Montgomery streets by the Crocker Galleria, an upscale mall. He was pummeled at least twice between 11 p.m. and midnight and he was left there until his body was discovered at 7 a.m.

Street Sheet
11/01/2014
Uniformly Unfair

Inability to get out bed in the morning or to use the bathroom might become grounds for expulsion from San Francisco's homeless shelters if new rules are adopted. In a community meeting at the Human Services Agency building on Oct.

Street Sheet
09/15/2014
Gimme Shelter: Counting Down to 90

It takes about three weeks for a homeless person in San Francisco to secure a 90-day bed in the city-funded shelter system, an independent analysis of the the recently instituted 311 shelter reservation waitlist shows. The numbers were crunched by a client who is in the system.

Street Sheet
08/01/2014
Report Finds Criminalization Increasing Nationwide

Criminalizing homelessness has gone national. That's not to say Congress passed a law outlawing people without a place to live or the Supreme Court ruled living without a permanent roof over one's head as unconstitutional. No, it means major media outlets in the U.S.

Street Spirit
08/01/2014
Laura's Law Passed by S.F. Board of Supervisors

Laura's Law is now a reality in San Francisco. On a 9-2 vote, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance implementing Laura's Law, also known as AB 1421, on July 8. Laura's Law enables a family member or another person living with someone to start legal proceedings for involuntary psychiatric commitment.

Street Spirit
06/06/2014
The State of Homelessness in San Francisco

New fronts in the battle on homelessness in San Francisco have opened up recently, including struggles for the rights of tenants, mental health clients and low-income residents of the Mission District. These are just a few of the immediate skirmishes advocates face, according to a panel addressing the state of homelessness in the city.

Street Spirit
04/06/2014
Vehicle Dwellers Will Be Driven Out by Van Ban in S.F.

The world just got smaller for Melodie. The streets where she can park her RV, which has also been her home for six years, are now fewer and farther between because a year-old ban on oversized vehicles has been expanded to more neighborhoods throughout San Francisco.

Street Spirit
02/13/2014
Controversy Over Plans for Jail Expansion in San Francisco

To build a bigger jail, a smaller jail or not build any jail at all? That is the question. At least that was one of them posed at a hearing of the Board of Supervisors' Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee.

Street Spirit
12/10/2013
Yet Another Attack on Homeless People in San Francisco

More than 200 homeless people will be evicted from San Francisco’s public greens after the Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a plan on Nov. 5 to shutter all parks from midnight to 5 a.m.

SF Public Press
06/14/2013
New Owner Ousts Longtime San Francisco Bay Guardian Editor

Tim Redmond, the longtime executive editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, left the paper late Thursday night after the owner forced him out, he said. Redmond said his dismissal stemmed from a dispute over personnel and editorial direction.

Street Spirit
04/01/2013
Trials and Tribulations of Homeless Folks in San Francisco Courts

San Francisco may soon be trying more cases against its indigent residents for sitting or sleeping on sidewalks and other so-called "quality of life" offenses, said a public defender who pleaded out a client for sitting on a milk crate on a Tenderloin sidewalk.

San Francisco Public Press
01/28/2013
Homeless People of San Francisco Speak Out

The San Francisco Public Press interviewed people living in the city without housing as they gathered at the Mission Resource Center and the S.F. Night Ministry open cathedral Sunday service at United Nations Plaza. They shared their experiences about lacking a permanent place to live.

Street Spirit
07/01/2012
Challenging Berkeley's Anti-sitting Measure

The measure to ban sitting or lying on sidewalks in Berkeley's commercial areas isn't the first attempt to regulate such activity in the city. Nor is it the first law on any municipal books imposing penalties for reclining outside a public place.

San Francisco Public Press
06/06/2012
SF to Tackle Shelter Waiting Game for Disabled and Older Homeless

The health of homeless people — especially older and disabled ones — is endangered by a time-consuming wait they endure daily when reserving a bed in San Francisco’s public shelter system, advocates and city officials say.

San Francisco Public Press
06/04/2012
Thousands of Tickets Handed Out to Homeless

San Francisco is an expensive place to find an apartment, sure. But it can also be a costly place to live outside. Police served homeless people in the city with almost 40,000 citations over a five-year period, according to records compiled by the city agency that provides homeless services.

SF Public Press
02/17/2012
Agency Gets State Funding to Build Homeless Shelter in Bayview

The San Francisco Human Services Agency has won a state grant to refurbish a building in the Bayview district next to the United Council of Homeless Services, a community-based organization, that could offer overnight shelter to 100 people a night by early next year.

Shareable Magazine & SF Public Press
12/09/2012
San Francisco to Pilot Participatory Budgeting

Residents in San Francisco's northeastern corner will soon get a say in how a small piece of San Francisco's budget is spent improving their neighborhood.

San Francisco Public Press
02/15/2012
Supervisors Tangle Whether to Kill or Change Ranked-choice Elections This Year

Opponents of the ranked-choice voting instant runoff system say he relatively novel approach is still confusing to voters, while foes of the traditional system that often results in a second runoff election is a waste of money. Dueling measure on how San Franciscans elect their top office holders by Supervisors David Campos and Mark Farrell could end up on the November ballot.

SF Public Press
08/08/2012
Poll: Air Pollution Takes Heaviest Toll on Black, Latino Communities

Monday night’s large crude-oil fire at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, which produced a towering column of acrid black smoke and aroused widespread panic in the area, served as a dramatic backdrop to new research showing that minorities and low-income people believe they bear the brunt of health problems related to air pollution.

SF Public Press
12/08/2011
Legal Advocates Give San Francisco Low Marks for Penalizing Homeless People

A national homeless advocacy organization says San Francisco continues to make criminals out of its homeless population. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty reported recently that the city and several other communities across the country penalize homeless people for behaviors related to their lack of housing.

San Francisco Public Press
11/16/2011
Dissecting a Newspaper's Claim of Anti-Panhandling "Clamor"

"Aggressive panhandling" made Page One of the San Francisco Chronicle again recently. But the report, like so many others before it in newspapers, magazines, TV and websites, left readers with more questions than answers about whether the trend indicated by the paper really existed.

San Francisco Public Press
08/10/2011
Facing Cuts, Nonprofits Forced to Lobby City Hall to Save Immigration Program

For clients at Self-Help for the Elderly, the citizenship classes taught by volunteer instructor Joanne Lee are a perfect fit: Classes are held at a convenient Chinatown location, senior clientele are easily accommodated and the material is taught in both English and Chinese. But the nonprofit was clearly on the chopping block This spring when Mayor Ed Lee's proposed budget called for a 20 percent cut to groups providing services to older immigrants.

SF Public Press
07/20/2011
War of Words over Fair Shelter Initiative

From the moment a measure to amend San Francisco’s Care Not Cash law was placed on the November ballot last month, the proposition has come under fire from politicians. Now the proposal has become a hot issue in the lead-up to this fall's mayoral race.

SF Public Press
05/25/2011
New Survey Reveals Age and Number of New Homeless Rising in SF

The average homeless person in San Francisco is male, has lived in the city for at least 10 years, was formerly a renter and is currently faced without housing for the first time, according to a new city-sponsored survey of homeless shelter residents.

SF Public Press
04/26/2011
2010 "Sit-lie" Law Could Cost City Thousands to Jail Repeat Offenders

It took two cops closing in from opposite directions to nab Charles Donovan outside Coffee to the People on the corner of Haight and Masonic streets. Dressed in camouflage and carrying a sign that read, “Need food,” Donovan was whisked away, ordered to remove his sunglasses and duly patted down.

SF Public Press
04/08/2011
City Tries Lottery System for Shelter Beds

One of San Francisco’s principal shelters is gambling on a new lottery system, operational as of today, that it says will more effectively allocate available beds for homeless people.

SF Public Press
03/21/2011
Computer Shutdown Hurts Homeless at City Shelters

The hours-long wait that homeless people undergo each day to get a bed for the night grew even longer last week when San Francisco’s computerized reservation system shut down at shelters across the city, forcing many to endure outside temperatures in the 40s during the two full days it remained out of commission.

SF Public Press
01/07/2011
Mayoral Selection 2011 series

San Francisco's search for a new mayor to succeed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom took some unexpected turns. Developments in this political drama are covered in this series.

Street Sheet
08/01/2010
Next Stop Unknown for Transients at Transbay Terminal

On Aug. 7, the Transbay Terminal will shut down for demolition while a temporary station will open two blocks away. As the structure built during the Great Depression gives way to a sleek open-air station of the 21st century, homeless people apparently will be written out of its history.

San Francisco Public Press
07/12/2010
Reforms Aim at Saving Shelter Beds

San Francisco’s adult homeless shelter system is seeing fresh attempts at reform on two fronts: one through the settlement of a lawsuit, the other through new legislation.

Newsdesk.org
11/12/2008
Attacks on Homeless Excluded from Crime Data: Advocates

Ricky Green of Bolinas, Calif., and Anthony Waters of Cleveland, Ohio, don’t know each other, but they have this much in common: both are homeless and both were brutalized by packs of teenagers in June.

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