Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Our City, Our Home"

The other day the San Francisco Chronicle and a boatload of other local media focused their output on our region's substantial unhoused population and the ongoing failure of public policy to much reduce their numbers. I read a lot of the entries linked here and it was discouraging.

In particular, a laudatory profile of the work of San Francisco homelessness chief Jeff Kositsky left me with the feeling that newspaper had buried the lede of its story. About 20 paragraphs in was this:
One reason for the slow pace [of reducing homelessness] is this shocking factoid: Every week, Kositsky’s team gets 50 homeless people off the streets, and every week, 150 more take their place.

On average, that’s 100 people who become homeless in San Francisco and 50 homeless people who arrive here from somewhere else. Some of them are just passing through, and some of them will figure out housing on their own. But many of them won’t.
One hundred residents, our neighbors who live alongside those of us with relatively secure housing, lose their place to live every week. One hundred living, breathing people!

Experienced Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan assembled some of the numbers in an interesting graphic presentation. One point that stuck out was that when city authorities claim they've gotten some people off the streets, some good sized portion of that reduction has been achieved by giving people one-way bus tickets to somewhere else. Does that help anyone except flacks who have to explain city policy? Maybe, but I'm skeptical

Fagan dares attempt to explain why, at this moment in time, San Franciscans perceive an intolerable crisis.
Weariness: The decades-old problem lends itself to a perception that it has no end in sight, and the exploding opioid epidemic, which has thrust more addicts onto the streets shooting up in public, only adds to the sense of futility.

Tents: The proliferation of tents all over the city, in places where before there were mostly just blankets and tarp lean-tos, has been perhaps the biggest driver. The Occupy protest movement that flared in 2011 and died out in 2012 infused hundreds of tents onto the streets, and kindhearted residents followed by raising donations to buy even more.

Unknown artist. This surprisingly bucolic picture of out tent encampments had been turning up on lamp posts.
Gentrification: As the city’s tech-driven economy exploded, traditional homeless hangouts in places like central SoMa or around the Transbay Terminal were revitalized. Unable to blend in so easily, the homeless migrated elsewhere, causing fresh alarm to those unused to seeing camps.

Panhandlers: As many as 50 percent of them, by some estimates, are formerly homeless people who now live inside but are so dysfunctional they revert to the one moneymaking technique they’ve always known. They look homeless, but they’re not.
After decades of hand-wringing and ineffectual policy initiatives, pretty much everyone agrees that the only true solution for people without housing is to provide housing. This is not a problem caused by the idiosyncrasies or disabilities of homeless individuals. It's not surprising that living on the streets drives some people crazy or encourages self-medication with alcohol and drugs. But if we don't like living alongside tent encampments, we have to move people inside.

The Chron reports that street people and allies have a substantive proposal:
... a proposed November ballot measure called “Our City, Our Home.” It would raise taxes on businesses making more than $50 million a year to bring in $300 million annually to build more housing, boost mental health and substance-abuse programs and create more shelter beds. [Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness] and other supporters are gathering signatures to qualify it for the ballot.

“It’s going to completely turn around this crisis,” she said. “Big time!"
When city authorities cry poverty at budget time, they need to remember this is a rich city. There's money here; it's time to put more of it to community use. Homeless people and their friends never have a chance to forget they live adjacent to riches.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

The article is a little vague as to from where the new homeless have come. Some homeless stay in one place but a lot of them move around more than others might realize. So it is possible SF is a magnet drawing them from elsewhere where they either lost their home or had decided on a nomad lifestyle.

When I was a girl, I remember driving to my grandmother's home in Portland at night and seeing the fires down in the bottom. My mom talked of them panhandling door to door when I was a baby and one of them trying to get in her bedroom window one night when her dog (a pitbull cross) discouraged him (Dad worked nights). They caught that one after he raped a woman down the street, which is why she knew it had been one of the homeless.

Coincidentally, yesterday I was in Corvallis and waiting for my husband to take his boots into be repaired. I watched two homeless men interact. Corvallis has a camp down along the nearby river and they are seen often in town. One of these guys is a regular by the post office. He's handicapped with a walker and clearly mentally not quite right. He settles there with his packs but doesn't really beg. He'd be tempting to give money too. The interesting aspect for me was when a much younger man joined him. The new arrival had long hair, was clean and seemed very intelligent if facial expressions tell much. Of course, I had to be polite and could only glance over now and then but I did see the younger guy give the older one three packs of white socks, obviously brand new that the older guy stuffed into his pack. They seemed to be friends, neither were panhandling in any obvious way. Both may have chosen to be in a camp rather than a facility but who knows. It would not have surprised me to learn the younger one was there for research but then again, with the homeless, you never really know unless maybe you spend time talking to them and for a woman that can be risky as motives can be misread in such situations-- even of an old woman like me. Sometimes I do give money even when it's said not to do it and instead to donate to the services that get them food or temporary shelter-- when they want it.

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