The homeless sweep won't work

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By Tim Redmond

I came to San Francisco in 1981, and there were people sleeping in Golden Gate Park. Dianne Feinstein, who was the chief exec back then, would periodically try to get rid of them. Art Agnos and Frank Jordan did the same thing. At one point in the 1990s, when Willie Brown was mayor, he discovered the shocking fact as if for the first time, and had a team sweep the campers out. Now the Chronicle has gotten the scoop yet again, and the mayor has dispatched his shock troops and is trying it all anew.

It won't work this time, either.

There simply aren't enough places for homeless people to sleep in this town. The shelters are unpleasant and often dangerous, and don't work for people who are opposite-sex couples (all the shelters are men- or women-only) or people who have dogs (and there are quite a few homeless people with dogs). They aren't a long-term answer for people who drink or take drugs, since they're all alcohol and drug-free (or are supposed to be).

The transitional housing the mayor is promoting is fine -- but there are thousands of homeless people and not enough rooms for all of them. So if you sweep the park, you just get homeless people sleeping in doorways.

Mark Salomon had an interesting post on this on the PRO-SF listserv; you can read it after the jump.

Writes Salomon:

I'm not so concerned about people sleeping in the park, just as I'm not so concerned about people sleeping on the sidewalks or streets if there is no other place available, so long as they are just sleeping.

If folks just slept in the park, cleaned up after themsevlves, and moved on during the day, most of us would probably not notice.

If any of us decided to take our tents and sleeping bags to the park and spent the night, there probably wouldn't be any trace of our stay.

My main concern is when ancillary conduct related to a poverty existence, such as defecation, urination and the dispersal of syringes becomes problematic.

Is it "worse" that these things happen in Golden Gate Park or Corona
Heights than around Marshall Elementary in the middle of the Mission?

The costs to police the park and the concrete public realm to the extent where one would see a difference in fewer feces and syringes are probably as significant as the cost of constructing facilities.

A political feasible mid range solution would be to adopt a broad front of "harm reduction" policies designed to lighten the annoying footprints of the homeless on our public spaces without attacking them as human beings, many of whom are seriously messed up for an often overlapping variety of reasons.

Outreach workers, instead of forcing homeless through the criminal justice system, should offer up "appropriate technology" disposal solutions for the most dangerous waste and trash as well as offering up services to help with sanitation.

I'd like for the City to initiate a "shit in a bag" program, where it
communicated to the homeless the importance of not befouling the public
space and provided plastic bags, TP and sanitizer for them to use.

Similarly, syringe disposal systems are inherently safe, designed to be
unopenable without tools, and should be deployed in sites frequented by
injection drug users.

It should be noted that nobody is noticing any more of these annoyances, now than 5 years ago. The Chronicle is simply tossing Gavin Newsom a softball for his reelection campaign so that he can appear tough on crime for his base voters, as if that is going to be an issue this year.

It is not cost effective to deploy the SFPD to deal with homelessness. It is also not cost effective for the City to make up for the abdication of the state and feds from their responsibility to deal with the mentally ill and drug abusers. So we can either complain or attempt another approach.