Cleaning up the shelter mess - Page 2

Shelters are going to be with us for a while -- and it's inexcusable that the city continues to operate them under such horrible conditions

At the very least, the staffs need more security and violence-deescalation training, the centers need to have operating and functional locks, and the city needs to mandate that the places are safe enough that clients aren't afraid to stay there.

A ridiculous bureaucratic labyrinth and lack of coordination Nobody should have to stand in line for three hours per day just to get a reservation for a shelter bed. Nobody should have to trek across town (on foot or on Muni, without the bus vouchers that the shelters ought to be giving out) from one shelter or homeless service center to another just to find out where to stay. There ought to be a one-stop shop (or a series of them) where a person can check in anytime during the day, find a shelter, line up a bed, get a ticket, and be on his or her way. City officials don't talk much about this, but many of the shelter residents have jobs; they go to work all day but still can't afford a place to live in San Francisco. The hoops they have to jump through make the system brutally unfair.

A lack of reality Mayor Gavin Newsom says he wants to get beyond the shelters, to use them only as entry points into a system that will find treatment, counseling, job training, and permanent housing for all homeless people. We want that too. So does just about everyone who cares about this issue.

But the mayor also talks about getting rid of aggressive panhandling, and he and his supporters complain about the people on the streets who hassle tourists. And nobody seems to want to admit that many of the folks who are typically lumped under the term homeless actually have homes.

The city has managed to lease, renovate, and otherwise make available hundreds of single-room-occupancy rooms, and quite a few formerly homeless people have found long-term residences there. But the mayor's Care Not Cash policy ensures that most of the modest welfare payments these people get are seized by the city for their housing, leaving them with nowhere near enough to survive. So they panhandle — is anyone surprised?

It may sound radical, but if the city, state, and federal cash grants to people who for whatever reason can't find work were increased to a level that would support a tolerable lifestyle in one of the world's most expensive cities, a lot of the quality-of-life problems Newsom bemoans — and that the city spends millions trying to mitigate with law enforcement resources — might go away.

Meanwhile, the shelter residents who do have jobs or who are looking for jobs spend so much of their lives trying to navigate a Byzantine system that they have little in the way of waking hours to improve their economic prospects.

The disaster that is San Francisco's shelter system is the legacy of many years of public policy that allowed the interests of developers, landlords, and speculators to trump the needs of the city as a whole. The housing crisis isn't going away tomorrow — but the victims have a right to a basic level of human decency. The supervisors need to make that happen, with dispatch.