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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.

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
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
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.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

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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