Monday, August 06, 2012

Million Dollar Murray's army


Photo by Brant Ward for the SF Chronicle

With the homeless issue, it's always Groundhog Day in San Francisco. The same issues are trotted out, and the same realities are ignored. Sunday's article in the SF Chronicle on the sit-lie issue and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood covers familiar ground:

Politicians who backed the sit/lie ban said it was those groups of youth they were focusing on, but traveling kids know to just stand up when they see police officers or hang out in the park instead. Police Department statistics show those most likely to be cited are the chronically homeless who are often alcoholic or struggle with other substance abuse issues.

Yes, of course. This is the Million Dollar Murray Problem. Back in 2006 Malcolm Gladwell wrote the definitive account of the issue of chronic drunks who cycle in and out of emergency rooms and city jails, costing taxpayers a lot of money.

No one has come up with a solution to that yet. Gladwell's article doesn't mention San Francisco, but the problem he describes is the same one we have because it's a national problem. If people don't want to get off the streets, cities can only roust and arrest them when they become a public nuisance. The street punks and chronic alcoholics have homelessness as a way of life in common.

Many of these folks---especially the alcoholics and drug addicts---end up dying on the streets. 

As usual with quality-of-life issues, city progressives were clueless on the sit-lie issue, as if the Million Dollar Murrays and the street punks were an oppressed class and getting them off the streets or making them behave violate their rights. In 2010 City voters passed Proposition L, the sit-lie ordinance, while rejecting Proposition M, a poison pill ordinance put on the ballot by prog supervisors that would have canceled out Prop. L.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi is quoted:

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who vehemently opposed the sit/lie ban, said it hasn't eased the city's homeless problem despite politicians' hype. "The sit/lie law was from the very beginning promised as a panacea for the city's homeless problem, and it really isn't," he said. "The cure is always wrapped up in a nice bow, and the reality when you open the box turns out to be something very different."

Simply untrue. Prop. L was always mostly about street punks in the Haight, who sleep in Golden Gate Park and move to Haight Street during the day, where they panhandle to buy drugs and booze. The ordinance applies to the whole city, but the Haight was/is the big problem neighborhood. Prop. L was put on the ballot by Mayor Newsom in response to complaints from Haight Street merchants and neighborhood residents. At the time Newsom and his wife lived on nearby Masonic Avenue, so he got a firsthand look at the problem. 

I've been writing about the homeless issue for years. The analysis in one of my first posts on the subject back in January, 2005, holds up pretty well.

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