Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Homelessness in SF: All carrot and no stick?

More than two years ago, Supervisor Daly had this estimate of what Care Not Cash was all about: "They declared war on people I care about...When that happens you fight back." ("City Hall Watch," Savannah Blackwell, SF Observer, April 21, 2005). Care Not Cash is a war on the homeless the same way Daly's Rincon Hill condos for the rich are a triumph for a progressive housing in SF (Daly: “I’ve got very exciting news. As of about one hour ago, individuals with development interests in Rincon Hill and community members came to agreement on a package for development and associated mitigations [in the area].” from BeyondChron).

When Daly thought---erroneously, alas---that Mayor Newsom was applying the same tactics to the downtown area that are being used to clear Golden Gate Park of homeless encampments, he was outraged once again.

Why is it that progressives only get outraged when the city actually tries to do something about getting the homeless off the streets? Why aren't they outraged about a status quo that saw 88 homeless people die in SF last year?

The front-page story in yesterday's Chronicle tells us that the so-called crackdown on the homeless on downtown streets is really about "persuading" the homeless to accept services to get them off the streets. City cops aren't involved at all, as it turns out. Maybe they should be.

Sgt. John Lewis of the SFPD is in trouble, as reported by Matier&Ross today, for writing this letter to the Chronicle, published last August 15, that questions the effectiveness of the sweeps in Golden Gate Park:

Editor,

Well, your recent articles regarding the homeless in Golden Gate Park has gotten the ball rolling. Agencies have descended on Park Police Station at 4 a.m. every day to rid the park of these camping lawbreakers. The city's new plan has these agencies climbing through the brush under the cover of darkness to enforce the city laws on illegal camping. The officers write the campers a citation for sleeping in the park and the campers are told to leave. The homeless outreach workers are with the police in the park and are asking the campers if they need a place to stay. I thought we had this program in place already; it's called Care Not Cash. Well, obviously the campers don't know about this program, or they do and think it sucks. Of course, most of the campers want nothing to do with the program and just want to be left alone. So, every day they come back and get their citation, which we all know means nothing.

The problem, as I see it, is the campers are not the problem. They can't stick needles in their arms at 2 a.m. It's a little dark. The problem is in the daytime. Sharon Meadows and Hippie Hill is where the problem lies. The city allows people to drink alcohol in this area, which happens to be a short distance from the new and improved Children's Playground and from the Haight Street entrance. Most of the calls for service, drug sales, drug use, robberies and fights are in this area. The law in this area needs to be changed.

Where there's alcohol, there are problems. Instead of sending a hoard of people into the park at 4 a.m., the city should be sending this same hoard into the park from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., when the real problems exist. It's funny, every time something is in the paper that makes this administration look bad, they throw a bunch of money at it and hope for the best. I won't go into how many officers have been taken off street patrol duties, because people in the city would go nuts. I have been told that this operation will continue for a long time. When is the next election? If you want to follow up on your articles, find out how much they city is spending on this ridiculous operation.

Sgt. JOHN LEWIS
Park Station San Francisco

Lewis raises a good question about what happens at Hippie Hill during daylight hours. The city should of course put a stop to this daytime drinking and drugging in Golden Gate Park, which will surely outrage Chris Daly again.

But Lewis's critique of city policy in the park suggests a question about our overall approach to homelessness: How long will city voters tolerate the city's present "sensitive" approach to the homeless? At what point will the city have to put some stick behind the carrots now being handed out to the homeless? And what form can/should the "stick" take in practice? Clearly handing out citations to the homeless is a waste of time.

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