Monday, November 12, 2007

Homeless policy in SF: The next step

Mayor Newsom hasn't provided any specifics yet on where he's going politically in the next four years, but he's unlikely to accept Trent Rohrer's resignation letter. As head of the city's Dept. of Human Services, Rohrer has been with Newsom on homeless policy every step of the way since Care Not Cash. The question now is, What's the next step on homeless policy in SF? More aggressive outreach seems like the logical next step to get homeless people off the streets and to keep them from camping in Golden Gate Park. But C.W. Nevius outlined how ineffectual the city is in dealing with the mentally ill living on our streets:

In a perfect world, that[people off their meds] could be addressed by Laura's Law, a state statute that allows the courts to commit patients who refuse voluntary treatment, provided they have been determined to be "unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision." Unfortunately, the law isn't used in San Francisco, or in most other counties. Officials generally point to the expense as a major hurdle. Mayor Gavin Newsom, who in the past said he wanted to implement Laura's Law, hasn't done so, citing among other reasons "institutional resistance." ("Mentally ill street people's rights thwart efforts to prevent harm," C.W. Nevius, SF Chronicle, Nov. 4, 2007)

A link for Laura's Law.

The city's Ten Year Plan, completed in June, 2004, also talks about this aspect of homelessness:

Current protective custody standards are inadequate and they are inconsistently applied. Only a third of the people brought to psychiatric emergency services are placed in treatment. Often homeless serious mentally ill people are released to the street without treatment only to be picked up later that day or soon thereafter...There is also a real need to find ways to prevent people from losing their homes due to the symptoms caused by mental illness. Twenty-five percent of the homeless have been hospitalized for psychiatric disorders; often mental illness is accompanied by substance abuse (page 31, SF's Ten Year Plan).

If the mayor can budget money for more outreach workers in general, why can't he do the same for this subset of the homeless?

In any event, many people---especially the mayor's political opponents---are still trying to deny that any progress has been made on homelessness in SF under Newsom. As someone who spends a lot of time moving around on city streets, my impression is that there has been a lot of progress. Kevin Fagan, the author of the fine Shame of the City series in the Chronicle, recently wrote a story that confirms my impression: "City and federal officials pointed out that between 2002 and 2007, the number of chronically homeless people in San Francisco dropped 38 percent, from 4,535 to 2771." (As U.S. reports lower numbers of homeless, city hailed as 'model, Kevin Fagan, SF Chronicle, Nov. 8, 2007). Fagan's Shame of the City series, worthy of a Pulitzer Prize)

And the 2007 homeless count, released in March of this year, shows that the number of homeless on city streets has indeed declined. The mayor's critics make much of the fact that, in absolute numbers, homelessness has increased. But the charge ignores an important fact: for the first time, the 2007 homeless count covered the whole city instead of covering known locations of the homeless and trying to project a count for the rest of the city. Hence, the 2007 count included 374 of the homeless that wouldn't have been included in the 2005 count.

The San Francisco 2007 Homeless Count

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At 9:56 AM, Blogger efsully said...

You actually think Newsom has improved the homeless situation? You've got to be kidding? The panhandling/vagrancy problem is as bad if now worse now then four years ago. I know that because I still have to walk through the same gauntlet of panhandlers now that I did four years ago. The only reason Newsom got reelected is due to the gay marriage issue. This city does not have a homeless problem, it has a vagrancy problem. For every person we get off the streets through Care Not Cash two more homeless people come to San Francisco. In fact almost half the so called "homeless" were homeless someplace else and then came to San Francisco. Most of these people refuse to go to a shelter even if it is clean and safe. Until city hall starts treating this as a vagrancy problem and not a homeless problem it will never be solved.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, I think Newsom has improved the homeless situation. Or put it this way: It would be a lot worse without his policies that have moved thousands of homeless into housing and bused thousands more outtahere via the city's Homeward Bound program. I agree that the homeless problem is largely a vagrancy problem. But the homeless/vagrancy problem is fueled by the fact that SF is a destination for both tourists and derelicts from all over the country. But no matter how you define it, the solution to the homeless problem is not obvious or easy, since we can't seal our borders to stop would-be derelicts from coming to SF. Anyhow, the point of this post is that the city must take its homeless policies to the next level by, among other things, enforcing Laura's Law on the streets of the city.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger efsully said...

I travel alot in my job to other cities. Nowhere is the panhandling, vagrancy, defecation and urination problem worse then here. The street behavior with people openly relieving themselves in public is simply not tolerated in other cities. Sure, when I'm walking downtown in these other cities you do see some homeless people but here it’s totally out of control and the abusive street behavior I simply don't see in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and other cities I visit. For all the people you say Newsom has moved out they are being replaced by more vagrants. At best, Mr. Anderson, Newsom's polices are just treading water. I don't put all the blame on Newsom, he does have to deal with a Board of Supervisors made up mostly of idiots. Buy why other cities can be mostly clean while San Francisco is mostly a pigsty in spite of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this problem is beyond me.


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