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Newsom plan won't work

THE WAY SUP. Gavin Newsom tells it, it's just too easy to be homeless in San Francisco. The would-be mayor is seizing on public frustration with the growing number of people panhandling and sleeping in the streets and suggesting that a series of reforms based on the New York City model will make the problem go away.

But as Cassi Feldman reports on page 20, what Newsom (and the generally sympathetic mainstream news media) aren't saying is that the New York model not only is cruel but also doesn't work. And neither will Newsom's legislative package.

The biggest problem with the Newsom program is that it completely ignores affordable housing. That's more than a minor oversight – it's a symbol of how Newsom wants to address what many call the city's most visible and troubling problem.

The Newsom program has two basic elements: The first part is a new bureaucratic approach (the creation of a department of homelessness – which activists say would be a huge waste of money – and a centralized shelter intake). The second – and most unappealing – is a tougher law-enforcement plan. Newsom wants to restrict panhandling, banning it, for example, on traffic medians, and he wants to create a hotline for people to report quality-of-life violations.

None of that will give a single homeless person any more hope of getting off the streets and into a permanent place to live – which, after all, ought to be the number-one goal of any homeless plan. As long as the city does nothing to create more housing for low-income people, and nothing to limit evictions, and nothing to provide mental health and substance-abuse treatment on demand, the numbers of homeless will just continue to grow.

That, in fact, is the dirty secret behind the much touted New York plan: the number of homeless has continued to rise in that city over the past five years. The problem is worse now than it was when the crackdown started.

Newsom has put the issue back on the top of the local political agenda, and it's up to the progressive supervisors and the community activists to respond with a much better program. But in the meantime, Newsom's should be roundly defeated.