SF- Art vs. Homelessness

San Francisco: a city filled with creativity and diversity. Whether it be the art pieces created by the many artists, or the ordinary people living day to day; San Francisco is the one city that allows individuals to express themselves artistically. With this said, there is an estimate of over a thousand murals created by a diverse range of artists scattered throughout San Francisco. There are also over 50 art museums & galleries and 90 memorials & monuments. Being known for the city’s contemporary art, or Abstract Expressionism, one thing that artists are starting to keep an eye out for is the homeless that camp on/near their art. With there being a huge homelessness crisis, you can find close to around 8,000 individuals that are without shelter, some giving no respect to their environment or anything around them. That lack of respect towards their environment looks something like the feces being left around, rise of drugs, garbage, etc. From art galleries, museums, to actual pieces of work, individuals value their creativity and feel as if the homeless ruin that enjoyment for them. In fact, some of these creative individuals become so attached to their art and the way it’s viewed, that it leads to disrespecting others without thinking about themselves first.

For instance, in January of 2023, an SF art gallery owner named Shannon Gwin was caught hosing down a homeless woman right outside his art shop. Owning the “Foster-Gwin Gallery” in San Francisco, Shannon Gwin wanted to make his point of having a clean environment surrounding his art pieces, stating to “Move!” as he aimed his water hose directly towards her face. Without hesitation, repeating himself, he began to continuously spray the woman on the sidewalk down, giving her no time to react or respond back. Finally stopping, the woman decides its best to leave, without the involvement of the cops; however, was later seen at the hospital a few days later. With Shannon Gwin being white, and the homeless woman being black, many also assumed discrimination/racism played a role towards the actions that had taken place. Not only did Gwin admit to what he did was wrong, he was also arrested and charged with battery.

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Sage I

31 thoughts on “SF- Art vs. Homelessness

  1. I think that in a city like San Francisco, filled with so much diversity, the expression of the people onto the cityscape includes everyone, including the homeless. I live close to the city and know that the homeless make up a lot of the city’s culture. That being said, artists neglecting to acknowledge their existence and significance is unsettling to me. Growing up in the Bay Area, I hear a lot of complaints about the homeless population in the city, yet there are not many people who are willing to solve this problem or become more accepting of the people. I have seen with my own eyes how awfully the people are treated. In a city that is so welcoming to everyone on paper, and encourages artistic expression and inclusivity of minorities, there is a lot of discrimination against the homeless population.

  2. I understand people are proud of their creative works, but I’m a bit dumbfounded to read someone sprayed a woman with a hose for simply sitting outside of an art gallery. It seems very clear that she is just existing and going about her day, not actively disrespecting any art. Even for those who may be sleeping against murals. unless they are actively defecating on them I would assume these people who are homeless don’t mean any disrespect to the art or artist. Combined with the all-too-common anti-homeless architecture so many big cities use, I would assume the real frustrations most of these cases tend to be is that they just find people who are homeless and their belongings something they don’t want to think about or look at. Using art as a defense seems like an excuse to treat these people who have already been dealt a rough hand by fate poorly.

  3. This behavior by this person shows a lack in humanity. While I believe that upkeep of major metropolitan cities are essential for safety and happiness, it is important to get to the root cause of why people experiencing homelessness cannot live cleanly. Instead of treating them like low-class citizens, it is imperative that they receive basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, clothes- etc. By providing a plethora of accessible resources to the homeless, it can minimize the amount of trash and hazardous materials left on the street.

  4. Homelessness has unfortunately plagued the United States’ major metropolitan areas; there was a surge in the amount of homelessness during COVID-19. Most of the people experiencing homelessness experienced unavoidable hardships that compromised their situation, some that are inevitable of causing displacement. It might sound naive of me to say, but they are people too. While I agree, that it is disgusting that they leave hazardous excrements on the street, we should fix it at the root of its problem; we need to allocate more funding for social programs that deal with harm reduction, or even resources for people experiencing homelessness rather than treating them with indecency.

  5. I think that in a city such as San Francisco, filled with so much diversity, the expression of the people onto the cityscape includes everyone, including the homeless. I live close to the city and know that the homeless make up a lot of the city’s culture. That being said, artists neglecting to acknowledge their existence and significance is unsettling to me. Growing up in the Bay Area, I hear a lot of complaints about the homeless population in the city, yet there are not many people who are willing to solve this problem or become more accepting of the people. I have seen with my own eyes how awfully the people are treated. In a city that is so welcoming to everyone on paper, and encourages artistic expression and inclusivity of minorities, there is a lot of discrimination against the homeless population.

  6. It is ridiculous that art takes precedence over the well-being and lives of human beings. Being unhoused is seen as an inconvenience to those who have to at most step around unhoused people on the street and look at them. This incident was obviously racially motivated, dehumanizing and disgusting altogether. The idea that the unhoused “disrespect” their environment is simply ignorant. These individuals have no alternative but to put their items on the streets, to live on these streets. No one actively chooses this lifestyle.

  7. I remember seeing this picture around social media – I had no knowledge of the context of the situation. I thought he was just blatantly disrespecting and just harassing a homeless person. I understand that homelessness is an issue and it may be affecting his art work; but instead of disregarding the fact that the person is also human he could put some of his earnings to good use and donate to help the community. Obviously homeless people don’t want to live in filth either but they lack the resources to do better and instead of helping others, people like Shannon Gwin dehumanized that woman even more.

  8. It is incredibly sad how little empathy is shown towards homeless people. A lot of them are seen as a nuisance for simply existing where others can see them. The artist cared more about how bad it looked to have a homeless person near their art so they did something cruel. I’m glad that they were charged, that sidewalk is not owned by him.

  9. It is incredibly sad how little empathy is shown towards homeless people. A lot of them are seen as a nuisance for simply existing where others can see them. The artist cared more about how bad it looked to have a homeless person near their art so they did something cruel. I’m glad that they were charged, that sidewalk is not owned by him.

  10. Homelessness is a huge issue in large cities, and its populations are growing. Art doesn’t have to be isolated from the world, it’s supposed to be immersive and engaging to people. Maybe artists in San Francisco should begin to make art that allows homeless people to take shelter there instead of art that needs to be displayed.

  11. I can definitely understand that Shannon wants to be able to have a clean environment in front of his
    establishment where he has his art; however he could have gone about this so many other ways
    instead of choosing to hose a houseless person down. What about considering the fact that that
    person may not have had anywhere else to go due to lack of resources and the city not doing it part
    to change that. He could have instead advocated for a solution to not only someone outside his
    establishment but throughout the city. I’m not saying he could have single handedly solved the issue,
    but the city does listen to the people and he could have used that to help and also reach a solution.

  12. I can definitely understand that Shannon wants to be able to have a clean environment in front of his establishment where he has his art; however he could have gone about this so many other ways instead of choosing to hose a houseless person down. What about considering the fact that that person may not have had anywhere else to go due to lack of resources and the city not doing it part to change that. He could have instead advocated for a solution to not only someone outside his establishment but throughout the city. I’m not saying he could have single handedly solved the issue, but the city does listen to the people and he could have used that to help and also reach a solution.

  13. I think it is insane that some people feel that homeless people are intruding on their area that is used for “art”, they are really valuing subjective art over the well-being and space of someone who is in need of help. These homeless people living in expensive areas such as San Francisco, do not have the resources to use a bathroom or keep themselves clean, and unfortunately turn to drug use as it can be their only escape from living a hell of a reality. Treatment from people such as that “art” shop, should be prosecuted for assault as that is no way to treat a living human being, especially for just being somewhere.

  14. I think Shannon’s behavior was flat-out insensitive and disrespectful. He does not own the sidewalk and hence should not have the right to kick anyone off of it. It’s sad how his need to ensure a “clean environment surrounding his art pieces” involved disrespecting and assaulting another human being. Art can be used to spread awareness and show humanity in all its forms. Instead of being empathetic towards the homeless woman, Shannon cared more about the aesthetics of the place than the humanity of the situation. I’m heartbroken for the woman and embarrassed that human beings can be so cruel and apathetic to other fellow human beings. I’m glad Shannon was arrested and charged with battery; I hope it serves him as a lesson. I also hope that the woman is doing better and hopefully gets the help she needs to get off the streets.

  15. I remember seeing the headlines for this when it happened & it’s beyond frustrating to see. You simply don’t treat people like this; full stop. Homeless people are still people. Some folks in this country have lost sight of this fact & have demonized a portion of the population who could really use some help.

    I understand that not *every* homeless person necessarily wants help, but they certainly don’t want to be sprayed with a hose for simply existing.

  16. When local governments decide to invest less in public spaces (like public restrooms) or to invest in any service that could actually help people experiencing homelessness, you end up with places like these. It’s depressing to see how our society has reached a point where we decide to value material things over human life but that’s one of the features of late-stage capitalism. Anything that does not provide value is considered to be “worthless”.

  17. Some of the homeless is forced by the helplessness of life to become homeless. They have nowhere to live and lose hope to the future. All they want is something to eat and a place to rest. The woman didn’t do anything wrong; she just want to find a place to sleep. There are homeless all over the states, we should still treat them equality even they are homeless.

  18. Art is created by people. Here we have someone who cares about their work. There is an understanding with how people treat others and the world around them. The government is also expected to be there to reflect this understanding and step in when needed. The homelessness crisis has not been properly addressed, and this is one of the results of that.

  19. I understand the stigma and negative perception that is created by seeing a houseless person standing in front of an establishment (like an art gallery); it does not do the business any good. Houseless people roaming a community can devalue nearby neighborhoods and is detrimental to its image. However, hosing a houseless person down for residing in front of an establishment is not a solution. It does not get at the root of the problem that causes individuals to resort to living on the streets. I think the act pictured here devalues the artist/owner of the art gallery because it symbolizes hatred and intolerance.

  20. I want to start by addressing the common complaints that are made to rationalize dehumanizing unhoused people. I find that people who complain about the feces, trash, and drug use of homeless populations fail to consider that they might not have alternative options. I think that it’s malicious to assume that unhoused people defecate in public because they want to; most restrooms in urban areas are locked or made unavailable to the unhoused, it’s not a matter of “wanting” to disrespect their environment, it’s a matter of not having a choice. The same follows for littering and drug use. It’s untrue to say that all homeless people use drugs, but I would like to ask: would you not use drugs if all day everyday people walked past you, harassing you and disrespecting you? Would you not want to find comfort in a substance?

    There’s a psychological hypothesis referred to as the just-world phenomenon. This phenomenon basically identifies the tendency of people to accept that the world around them is just, and that the people in the world around them will get what they deserve. I think that many people would rather criminalize the homeless population and make excuses for why they’re unhoused, rather than accept that there is a great social injustice occurring around them (an injustice that they’re likely participating in). The housing crisis in California has led to increases in homelessness, and there aren’t the resources needed to support the influx of unhoused people. This has left thousands of people throughout California living on the streets. The behavior of Shannon Gwin is honestly despicable. If his concern was with the woman’s lack of respect for his gallery, he should have considered how his own lack of respect towards another human reflects on his character. For Gwin to consciously see the woman, recognize her condition, and conclude that a hose would be a rational deterrent is inhumane, and reflects an utter lack of empathy.

  21. The complete dehumanization of homeless people to the point where people feel confident in hosing homeless people to get them out of the way of art is such an inhuman social phenomenon. To blame homeless people for being unclean, drug addicts, etc is completely missing the point, the homeless aren’t unclean and drug addicts because they want to be, it is just what tends to happen to people who live on the streets and experience all the trauma that entails. If the artist wanted a clean and tidy environment for her art, maybe she should direct her hose towards the psychopathic system that allows homelessness to even exist in the first place, and not to the victims of such a system.

  22. I see homeless as a reflection of society’s well-being. The great number of homeless people in this nation does not only have an effect on society, but also does homelessness greatly impact this affected individual. In Germany, as an example, homeless is a „choice“, bluntly spoken. In America it is not. With a little bit of misfortune it can happen to all of us. So, showing indifference towards a homeless persons situation simply portraits a lack of human decency. Maybe, if the owner of this art gallery would have „aided“ this woman to gain access to sufficient resources, perhaps there would be no reason to sit on the street…

  23. It is pathetic that an artist would blame a person for living in front of their art when that person has nowhere else to go. It is one thing if someone was vandalizing their art, but these people are simply trying to make it through the night. This is a good demonstration of the wealth gap in San Francisco and the negative affects it has on the city.

  24. It’s sad to see someone hosing another person down, especially someone in unfortunate circumstances. I understand wanting to preserve art and wanting to display it in a nice area, but it doesn’t excuse having a lack of compassion. San Francisco needs to do better for all their people in order to avoid situations like this. Homelessness is something that needs to be addressed at a larger scale than it currently is, so far it’s been more of locals trying to fix this issue rather than our government.

  25. It is sad to see that some artists are more concerned with their art pieces than with the people who are homeless in the city where the art was created. I understand feeling pride for one’s work and wanting to protect it, but if you are creating art in public places then you need to appreciate the public space where it is created and not try to change it. I mean if you think about it, it was an acceptable place for you to create your art, but now it’s not acceptable for you to display it? However, if you are going to try to change it into a more “acceptable” place, then let the proper authorities handle it and don’t try to hurt those in your way.

  26. I believe that people are more important than artwork, and I was glad to read that Gwin was arrested and charged with battery. It’s true that the problems with homelessness have increased and become significant, but homeless people are not exactly to blame for those conditions, and the blame should be directed at the government or city officials who are in a position to resolve such issues. I understand the importance of respecting art work or art galleries, but homeless people are people too. They are part of society and they deserve our respect and our empathy.

  27. This is very unfortunate as I understand wanting to preserve art, but I do not believe it justifies hosing an actual human being down. As homeless people have enough to deal with being homeless, I think it is very disrespectful to do such a thing. I doubt homeless people also want to live in filth, but unfortunately there are very little resources for them and they continue to be mistreated. I believe the anger people are feeling is being misdirected at homeless people themselves, rather than local governments that should be doing something to help relieve the homeless crises. With Shanon being white, I believe that they should have understood their privilege not only with race, but class as well.

  28. Unfortunately, this is a problem that plagues many major cities, including San Francisco. Especially after the pandemic, the homeless population has surged in most major cities and has become an issue everywhere, despite shelters and other organizations trying to help. I’ve read multiple stories like this where people eventually become so fed up, that they result to physical altercations which ends up with them in trouble. Art is such an important piece to many cities and while I know that homelessness can’t always be helped, I would assume that most people, regardless of housing status, would have the understanding to protect this.

  29. I cannot say that I find this shocking. The number of homelessness has increased over the past 5 years. I have worked with the homeless population and this story is not any different from stories they are sharing with us in time of intake. I do agree that San Francisco is known for its contemporary art, I was in the bay area for New Years, I was amazed by the amount of murals the city but also amazed by the number of people who living in the streets. In my time there I was able to speak with a few local agencies that primary focus is to decrease the rate of homelessness, but it seems as an impossible action in a place were help is not given to everyone or it very limited. I do agree that the actions done by Shannon Gwin were morally wrong, I do believe that there were better ways to prove a point and not having to hose down a human. I do also support the idea that living the streets dirty with trash or feces is not the best way to ask for help. It is important that both parties become aware of their actions and are hold responsible, in some cases many will argue that it was an action of racism but I don’t believe it was done with that action. In contrast, I see it as a call for help and a time to increase the resources.

  30. San Francisco was once a place where culturally diverse people brought great foods, arts, and cultures together. It is, undeniably, a melting pot. It is sad to see San Francisco slowly declining with how unorganized and unprofessional the local government handles this situation. But, I think it is also essential to ask whether they (homeless people) want to integrate back into society or if they are comfortable living like that. Also, as someone from the San Francisco Bay Area, I do not think this action was derived from racism. I have seen too many encounters where one race was verbally harassing a homeless person of a different race, and those encounters included every single race. The homelessness problem and the following behaviors are more significant than just a race issue. It is a social issue that regular people cannot solve. Unfortunately, the local government is also not reliable in solving this issue.

  31. It is so interesting to see how there is art just in the mere process of protecting art. I have always known there to be a homeless issue in San Francisco, and while this action was considered an offense, it showed how much one valued their own artwork.

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