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HOW CAN YOU talk about homelessness without even mentioning housing? That's the biggest problem (and there are a lot of problems) with Sup. Gavin Newsom's new plan for addressing homelessness in San Francisco.
You can argue about governmental structure (Newsom says there ought to be a "department of homelessness"). You can argue about the best way to handle intake and shelter services (Newsom wants to centralize everything). But there are a few things that are way, way beyond argument, and here's the first one: most people are homeless because they can't find a place to live. And all the "tough love" in the world won't help them if you don't create affordable housing.
As Cassi Feldman reports on page 20, Newsom has modeled his plan after New York City's program, which supporters say has cleaned up the city's streets. But it hasn't reduced homelessness there are actually more homeless people in New York today than there were five years ago. And their lives are a whole lot tougher.
Newsom also wants to crack down on panhandling. Frank Jordan tried that too, when he was mayor, and it didn't work. People who need cash and have no other way to get it are going to panhandle on the streets (just the same way that people who live in a city that won't provide adequate public bathrooms will urinate on the streets).
I wish people didn't have to ask for spare change, but I must admit, I don't see why it gets people like Newsom so worked up. There are jerks asking for money, of course (just like there are jerks writing legislation, and wearing police badges, and doing all sorts of things). But the vast majority of the panhandlers I see are polite and friendly (and I always try to give them money. So should you.)
Some of that money goes for drugs and alcohol (one guy once asked me "for $5, man I swear it's for drugs." That was worth a fiver.) Some of the people need rehab or mental-health treatment, as do a lot of people who live in nice houses. The people with nice houses can afford it; the ones on the street can't (and the city isn't helping anywhere near enough.)
And (as Amanda Nowinski reports on page 61), some of the most obnoxious, aggressive jerks on the street are well-dressed, well-housed guys who walk around the Marina district, where Gavin Newsom lives.