TechCrunch Breaks With Event Company Over Homeless Sweep

TechCrunch rented this event space on Market Street to stage its annual Disrupt conference.

Liz Enochs/San Francisco Public Press

TechCrunch rented this event space on Market Street to stage its annual Disrupt conference.

An unsanctioned sweep of a homeless encampment in central San Francisco has cost the event company Non Plus Ultra a big customer.

The company rousted eight people in the middle of the night on Sept. 10, and – while city officials have largely remained silent – the action didn’t sit well with TechCrunch, which is renting Non Plus Ultra’s SVN West event space at Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue.

Non Plus Ultra hired an independent cleaning crew to dispose of eight people’s tents and belongings along the back of SVN West. During the middle-of-the-night sweep, people lost survival gear, family ashes, musical instruments and thousands of dollars in cash.

Many city departments have not made statements in response to the incident, which the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights called “blatantly illegal.” The mayor’s office, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Healthy Streets Operation Center, the San Francisco Police Department and the city attorney’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

TechCrunch — which is renting SVN West from Non Plus Ultra this week for its Disrupt conference — released a statement criticizing the decision to seize people’s belongings and saying it is cutting ties with Non Plus Ultra.

“This is absolutely unacceptable, and we’re working to take immediate action,” wrote TechCrunch Editor in Chief Matthew Panzarino and TechCrunch Director of Operations Joey Hinson in a blog post responding to the outcry over the incident. “We will no longer be working with Non Plus Ultra at any of their venues in San Francisco for any TechCrunch event in the future.”

Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district encompasses SVN West and the street where the sweep took place, did respond. He said that after reading the original article on the sweep in the San Francisco Public Press, he reached out to Non Plus Ultra to discuss the issue. The event company operates out of several buildings in Haney’s district, including the San Francisco Mint, which is leased to them by the city.

“I said ‘Hey, this sounds terrible to me, and unacceptable. What happened here, and what are you going to do?’” he said. 

Non Plus Ultra has yet to make any public statements about its role in the sweep, though TechCrunch writes that the event company will be working with Community Housing Partnership and DISH, a supportive housing program, to “support the homeless community on 12th Street.”

Haney also contacted Capt. Edward Del Carlo, who heads SFPD’s Southern Station.

“It’s pretty shocking that the police were there and didn’t intervene,” he said, referencing the fact that police were called to the scene and took no steps to prevent the theft. Two witnesses allege that police even participated in the sweep, unzipping tents and telling people to leave. “We should have a responsibility to prevent those types of conflicts on our streets,” Haney said. “If people’s things are being stolen,” he added, the police “should be stopping that, and they should be stopping violence as well. It sounds like there were people hurt in the course of this, which is awful and unacceptable.”

District Attorney Chesa Boudin said he is also keeping an eye on the situation.

“I am concerned about the recent unauthorized homeless sweeps as well as reports that police officers were on scene but did not intervene to prevent destruction of personal property,” he said. “Unhoused people have the same rights to their property as anyone else — and they are especially vulnerable to the seizure of their personal belongings. We must stop the dehumanization of our unhoused neighbors.”

Boudin called for long-lasting solutions to poverty, adding, “Sweeps like this one are not only inhumane, but approach our housing crisis as if it were a game of whack-a-mole rather than by seeking systemic change.”

Haney, who pushed for the opening of hotel rooms for unhoused people early in the pandemic, said the safety of homeless encampments goes beyond this single incident.  “I believe strongly that no one should be living on our streets during a pandemic,” he said.

He’s also expressed concern about copycat sweeps. “The Department of Homelessness and the Mayor’s Office need to give some guidance on clarifying for people that they can’t do this.”