[Hpn] FW: [SOMARA]the view from those homeless folks

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 09 Nov 2000 20:07:24 -0700

From: coh <coh@sfo.com>
Reply-To: list@somara.org
Date: Thu, 09 Nov 2000 19:37:45 -0700
To: <list@somara.org>
Subject: [SOMARA]the view from those homeless folks

Dear SOMARA members:

I write to respond to recent SOMARA emails that address the issue of
homelessness.  After reading the emails, some of us from the Coalition on
Homelessness spoke with homeless people South of Market -- I have included
their reactions and comments below along with our position on calling the
police and the Department of Public Works (DPW).  I have also included facts
about homelessness in the City.

Homeless people's concerns

On Thursday, November 9, some of us from the Coalition went to speak with
homeless people in the South of Market area (SOMA).  We encountered a number
of homeless people who were concerned about the situation in the SOMA.  From
our conversations, we discovered the following:

(1) no one we spoke with wished to live on the street -- one person receives
SSI disability benefits, which amount to $700 per month -- rooms in the area
and in the cheapest parts of town run approximately $40 per night -- this
man went to find housing through one of the City's housing programs but was
told he had to attend a substance use treatment program first -- such
programs have 1,200 to 1,400 people on waiting lists, who wait several
months to get in.

(2) every person with whom we spoke had had property taken by police/DPW

(3) everybody who lost property lost warm clothing;

(4) DPW did not store anyone's confiscated property; it was all thrown away;

(5) one person was watching a friend's property for them while they went to
an appointment -- the police and DPW came, took the property against the
protestations of those nearby (and against current laws governing property
confiscation), and placed it in a trash compactor -- included in the
property was clothing, toiletries, medication, and irreplaceable family
photographs -- the person whose property was taken was seen shaking in
despair and anxiety, and crying;

(6) two homeless men recently left their neatly-packed property (including
warm clothing, identification, and personal papers) on a rarely used
sidewalk while they obtained lunch -- they returned later to find their
property had been taken by a DPW  trash compactor truck (according to
witnesses) that had targeted their personal belongings for "clean-up,"
passing by a full public trash can which was overflowing, leaving trash in
the street;

(7) homeless people who reside in the area regularly clean the sidewalks and
streets nearby -- one person we encountered was using a broom to sweep
around the sidewalk where he sleeps at night;

(8) homeless people who reside in the area do not stand for violence or
illegal acts against another -- in an effort to avoid confrontations with
police and housed residents of the area, some homeless people have formed a
loosely-knit "neighborhood watch" which attempts to prevent crime in the

(9) homeless people we spoke with wish to be treated as individuals -- they
agree that some people leave trash behind, but not all homeless people do --
and when one calls the police or DPW, those agencies do not distinguish
between people who clean up after themselves and those who do not;

(10) every person we spoke with was willing to listen to the concerns of
housed residents of the SOMA.  "Let us know what they're dissatisfied with.
Tell us why they're calling the cops.  We're their neighbors, we should talk
like neighbors," was one of the comments.

Calling the police and/or DPW is not a solution:

Calling the police is not a solution.  In fact, as police get more involved,
problems increase exponentially.  Police often charge homeless people with
the minor crimes of trespassing or blocking the sidewalk, often when no law
has been broken, in an effort to push people out of neighborhoods.  Homeless
people are brought to police stations for processing and sit in holding
cells while missing opportunities and appointments to obtain food,
employment, housing, public benefits, and medical care.

Calling the police and the Department of Public Works (DPW) results in
homeless people's property being illegally thrown away.  In practice, the
San Francisco Police Department (and often DPW) does not distinguish between
litter and homeless people's personal property.  Medication, warm clothing,
family photographs, and identification, are regularly disposed of.  As a
result, people on the street experience increased health problems,
difficulties interviewing for jobs and housing, and are forced to live
outside with little protection from the elements.  People who have very
little to begin with and little if no income must start from square one
every time their property is taken.

The police and DPW can scatter people about the City and throw people's only
worldly possessions into trash compactors, but they can not get someone a
shelter bed, substance abuse services, mental health services, or affordable

There are more humane, not to mention more effective, responses to the
problems discussed in the SOMARA emails.

General statistics on homelessness in San Francisco:

(1) there are approximately 12,000 to 14,000 homeless people in the City
(2) the City has approximately 1,500 shelter beds (about 1 for every 9
homeless people)
(3) approximately 100 families are on the waiting list for emergency shelter
(4) there are between 1,200 and 1,400 people on waiting lists for substance
abuse treatment
(5) over the last 10 years, 909 Singe Room Occupancy units have been lost to
(6) between 1996 and 1998, approximately 800 units of public housing were
destroyed, a third of which will never be replaced
(7) in 1999, a record number of homeless people died on the streets

We encourage everyone who reads this email to think twice before calling in
the police and DPW to sweep homeless people out of sight.  We encourage you
to think further about creative solutions, ones that involve your homeless

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call Adam Arms or Mara
Raider at the Coalition on Homelessness office (415) 346-3740.

Civil Rights Division
Coalition on Homelessness
468 Turk Street
San Francisco, CA  94102
(415) 346-3740

Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415/346.3740 - voice
415/7755639 - fax