It’s horribly inhumane and indefensible for Nevada to ship its mentally ill homeless to San Francisco, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera is right to go after that state with a lawsuit aimed at changing that policy and recovering the city’s costs, which he discussed today in a press release and San Francisco Chronicle article.
But San Francisco should have greater moral authority to make this stand than it does, thanks to the Homeward Bound program started by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and continued by Mayor Ed Lee, a program that gives local homeless individuals a one-way bus ticket out of town.
The Chronicle took pains to say how different San Francisco’s exportation of its homeless is from Nevada’s, noting that we make sure our homeless are stable enough to travel alone and that there’s someone waiting for them on the other side before we send them to the bus station.
Sure, that’s better, but the basic concept is the same and it’s consistent with San Francisco basic approach toward much of its homeless population, for whom the city intentionally limits shelter beds and makes it difficult to get one and treats the resulting street population as a law enforcement issue.
Newsom was elected on his Care Not Cash promise to provide shelter and social services to the homeless, and it certainly did get many people who needed it into supportive housing. But the actual homeless problem is far worse and more systemic than that program (or feel-good gimmicks like Project Homeless Connect) can really address.
San Francisco should be leading the way in calling for this country to address the root causes of homelessness, as well as the related problems of poverty, exploitation of workers and natural resources, and a wasteful economic system that is cooking the planet and its biodiversity.
Instead, we’re leading the way in pushing unsustainable, technology-fueled economic growth with no regard for the byproducts of wealth generation by the privileged few, whether it be giving our homeless one-way bus tickets out of town, forcing our workers and nonprofits to seek reasonable rents elsewhere, undermining hard-won social compromises, or missing our own greenhouse gas reduction goals (today's Examiner cover story).
We can — and we should — take greater responsibility for our city’s policies and prejudices and work to regain the moral authority that we need to be an example for other cities and begin to advocate for needed reforms on the national and international levels.