Wednesday, November 04, 2015

"Helping" the homeless---to remain homeless?

The Chronicle praises the compassion and creativity of city residents:

We’ve got to hand it to you, San Francisco. You have a huge homeless population, dirty streets and tent cities popping up all over, but you also have creative residents determined to do something about it...But if City Hall can’t find the answers, plenty of everyday citizens are willing to help. One thing’s for sure: Fewer San Franciscans seem to be willing to just avert their eyes from the misery or complain over their overpriced lattes. More seem to be giving the subject some deep thought and coming up with intriguing ideas.

The story highlights lava mae ("mobile hygiene for the homeless") and hand up gift cards  for the homeless (video above).

These programs are laudable and creative. Hard to knock the good intentions of everyone involved.

But what about the potential unintended consequences?

The biggest shortcoming of the city's approach before Gavin Newsom's Care Not Cash: the city was giving the homeless $300 a month in General Assistance while they were living on the streets and in city parks that essentially enabled them to remain homeless.

Both the lava mae and the hand up programs may also have the unintentional effect of enabling people to remain homeless.

The goal of city homeless programs should always be to get the homeless off city streets and out of city parks.

Back in 1999 there was even a Shopping Cart Task Force due to the homeless using supermarket shopping carts to store their belongings that proposed providing the homeless with their own carts to prevent theft from markets.

San Francisco is now implementing Laura's Law, but that will only affect a small number of homeless people. 

My favorite city homeless program: Homeward Bound, which has sent 6,983 homeless people out of town by providing them a bus ticket to wherever there's someone on the other end to receive them.

Jennifer Friedenbach, of the Coalition on Homelessness, thinks San Francisco is obligated to provide housing for everyone who turns up homeless in the city:

Let’s make a plan to house another 6,000 currently homeless households. Figure out how much it would cost. Find an income source if needed, a progressive tax targeting speculators or another idea. Double the number of homeless units in the affordable housing pipeline, and then speed up construction on the ones farther down the pipeline, prioritize turnover units to homeless people. Some of that housing needs to be supportive housing to address special needs, but for many folks, they just need the lower rents.

That's magical thinking from a special interest group. It's not going to happen.

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At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for keeping this on the front burner. I just wish we would call these people "street people" instead of homeless. And yes we do enable people by giving them money when they panhandle. Living in SOMA I see people on the traffic island at Mission and So. Van Ness taking money and then I see them later in my neighborhood smoking crack or shoot up something. I have to think that the money they got went directly into their arm or lungs. I guess people don't know that giving cash money merely speeds up the day when those people will die on the streets...where they have chosen to live.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

This issue isn't going away---ever. Homelessness is here to stay, partly because of the cost of housing, partly because there seems to be a constant supply of the potentially homeless due to drugs, emotional breakdowns, etc. The best we can do is cope with it practically and compassionately, which we aren't doing very well as a city lately.

For several years, the programs Gavin Newsom put in place---over "progressive" objections---did fairly well: Care Not Cash, supportive housing, Homeward Bound, Project Homeless Connect, etc. The problem seems to be mutating into something else even though the numbers haven't gone up radically. Maybe to an older more hardcore homeless, those now being evicted from SROs, who are going to be shooting up whether they are homeless or not.

These folks are becoming the "street people" you refer to. It was obvious during the sit-lie controversy that these were people who weren't really looking for housing, partly because they couldn't afford it in SF and partly because they could sleep in Golden Gate Park and panhandle on Haight Street during the day.

At 11:01 AM, Anonymous sfthen said...

There is probably a direct correlation between the amount of City dollars the homeless establishment gets and the number of people hanging out on the street. As William Burroughs wrote over 6o years ago, "I recall talking to an American who worked for the Aftosa Commission in Mexico. Six hundred a month plus expense account.
"How long will the epidemic last?" I enquired.
"As long as we can keep it going. . . ." he said dreamily.

Sounds like something could've come from Friedenbach, without the "homeless" she might have to get a job.

And who could forget the City's "Homeless Czar" Bevan Dufty: let's give puppies to the homeless. What a moron, these people don't even clean their own feces off the sidewalk, you can't expect them to pick up after a dog!

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes. My favorite anecdote in the Chronicle story is about the guy with three pit bulls. Presumably this guy will be a ward of the city until it finds housing for him:

One of the [Navigation]center’s current residents, Enrique Gonzalez, 44, has been there since July with his three pit bulls. The Iraq War veteran said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and that the dogs help him stay calm. “I need them probably a little more than they need me,” he said. He has a dorm bed at the center, and the dogs have their own beds in cages set up next to his. A traditional shelter would never allow that, and it’s proving hard for his case manager to find permanent housing that will take three dogs, even though Gonzalez has a federal housing voucher for veterans to help pay the rent.

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Oakland we have something similar, it's called a "Hands Up Gift Program". Thugs show you their gun, you give them your wallet, laptop, and phone as a gift.


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