Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Last June, the San Francisco Human Services Agency reported 6,436 homeless people in the city, of whom about 3400 lived on the streets. The rest were in shelters or otherwise in contact with "the system." Activist groups like the Coalition on Homelessness have long charged that HSA's numbers are way too low. This seems likely. Who wants to be counted by the man when on the street?
Most of the "homeless" work at least part time. They just don't have a stable place to live, so they and their meager belongings end up outside. That sure fits with what I know of the lives of the people I've known who would be categorized as "homeless." It might be more accurate to say they have been "intermittently housed," sometimes crowded into dingy lodgings or single room occupancy hotels, sometimes in charitable or social service agency shelters, occasionally in jails -- and when all else fails, on the streets.
Recently we've had one of our periodic legislative bouts of kicking homeless people when they are down. Supervisor Scott Weiner came up with an ordinance to criminalize simply being in a park from midnight to 5am. Understand, it is already illegal to sleep in parks and the police readily admit they don't have the personnel to enforce that law, but hey, we need to give them another tool to criminalize poverty, don't we?
Sometimes we have tolerant instincts.
I have qualms about photographing people who appear to be living on the streets when I walk about San Francisco. Yet I take pictures of other people who appear more affluent walking their dogs, exercising, working outside … Street people have no refuge from my camera. I try to be respectful. After all, these are people. And certainly are these people are part of the San Francisco scene.
As a society, we know how to end homelessness: put people who don't have housing into houses. Yes, it is that simple, as well as cheaper and more humane than our labyrinthine social service bureaucracy. As formerly homeless author and journalist Charley James cogently explains, homelessness is "Cheaper to Fix Than to Let Fester."