The crime of being homeless - Page 3

San Francisco prosecutors crack down on quality-of-life crimes

She'd spent the past seven years on the Department of Housing and Urban Development's waiting list for public housing and got kicked off because of the misdemeanor.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi expressed concern that a dragnet is being created for arresting homeless people committing status crimes they have no control over. "We have to be very careful we're not trying to legislate services through the criminal justice system. We do too much of that already," he said. "This approach assumes that if a person is in trouble, they're more likely to accept the services. I haven't seen that is true."

Henderson doesn't necessarily agree that the criminal justice system shouldn't play a role in assisting homeless people: "I want this citation to serve as a wake-up call for you." He thinks people need to be held accountable and would like to see the city adopt the plan for a Community Justice Center, modeled after New York City's, a vision that his boss, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and Newsom also share.

"We believe San Francisco has a unique infrastructure and need for the Community Justice Center. That's why we are proposing to pilot this initiative in the Tenderloin and South of Market area, where more than a third of the city's quality of life offenses occur," Harris and Newsom wrote in a May 13 editorial in the Chronicle. "The center promises to give relief to the neighborhoods most affected by quality of life crimes."

During an Oct. 1 endorsement interview with the Guardian, Newsom said he hoped to open the new center by December. Lazar, who sits on the committee that's still hammering out the details for how exactly the center would work, agreed with Henderson that it's the next step in more direct connection with services: "We're trying to put the criminal justice system and the social justice system together."

Della-Piana said this still ignores the black marks that misdemeanors leave, which become good reasons for some service providers to save their limited resources for people with clean records. "The two ideologies don't mesh," Della-Piana said. "My homeless clients want housing. There currently is not enough of it to go around. Arresting them instead of citing them for sleeping and other basic life activities will not change the availability of the most needed services."