I've had some pretty sharp disagreements with Bevan Dufty, but in this case, he's on the right track: Mayor Lee's idea of launching an ad campaign to discourage contributions to panhandlanders is ugly, dehumanizing, and a civic disgrace.
Homeless people are people. They're not animals at Yosemite ("please don't feed the bears.") They're not some sort of public-relations problem for downtown hotels. They're San Franciscans who for one reason or another have lost the ability to pay rent. That's not a crime and it shouldn't be the end of their humanity.
You want to stop agressive panhandling? It's relatively easy. Increase general assistance grants and make sure that everyone in the city has enough money to eat and get a place to sleep. Oh, but that involves raising taxes -- and it also requires a dramatic change in attitude at City Hall. A guaranteed minimum income wasn't always considered a crazy radical idea; 40 years ago, it was part of the mainstream of American political thought. Now, anybody who isn't working -- for whatever reason -- is considered drunk, lazy, a freeloader, a drag on all of the rest of us. Except that a lot of the rest of us are one paycheck away from the same fate.
I always give to panhandlers. I know some of them take the money and buy booze or drugs; I spend part of my money on such things, too, and I don't even live on the street. If I did, I suspect the beer-and-bourbon portion of my net spending would increase significantly. I know some have substance-abuse problems; I suspect that the buck or two I hand over isn't going to make that any better or worse, but it might very well keep someone in need of a drink or a fix decide it's not necessary to rob a passer-by or break a car window to get the money.
Even the "agressive" panhandlers I encounter tend to calm down if you treat them politely. If I have no cash, I look them in the eye, say I'm sorry and would love to help but I can't do it right now. In more than 30 years walking the streets of San Francisco, treating panhandlers like the human beings they are, I've never once had a problem. And I don't expect to.
Let's do an ad campaign to discouarge residents and tourists from continuing to allow their tax money to go for loopholes and benefits for large corporations. Don't feed the rich; they're already too fat. How about it, Ed?
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