[Hpn] Politics of homelessness

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 07 Nov 2001 15:03:41 -0800


http://www.sfbg.com/News/36/06/06oped.html

San Francisco BAY GUARDIAN
 news 

November 7, 2001

opinion 

Politics of homelessness

by the coalition on homelessness


A homeless man required by the welfare system to work with city cleaning
crews is ordered to throw out neatly packed shopping carts, filled with
necessities such as blankets and medication, belonging to other homeless
people. Two women watch as all of their possessions get thrown in the back
of a garbage truck while they are arrested on warrants resulting from
citations they could not pay.

A homeless man runs down the street yelling for his stuff to be saved from
the chomping of the trash compactor. A man new to the streets leaves his
things under a bridge while going to an appointment. He comes back to find
all of his worldly possessions gone and a note telling him to call a
long-distance number. A few days later someone tries to set him on fire. He
lives. 

For thousands of homeless people across San Francisco, these incidents
represent a daily threat. Faced with such violations, homeless people asked
the city to give them 24 hours' notice before confiscating their property.

It's not a complicated issue. Even the Board of Supervisors got it when the
Coalition on Homelessness met with each member earlier this year. Eight
other supervisors joined board president Tom Ammiano to support
24-hours'-notice legislation. Ten months later the proposal was defeated by
a 7-4 vote. 

Mayor Willie Brown's staunch opposition to protecting the rights of homeless
people is the major reason this legislative effort failed. The city
departments did his dirty work. While they are supposed to implement policy
directives from the board, the Public Works and Recreation and Park
departments engaged in full-scale lobbying efforts against this legislation.
They used questionable data and scare tactics to smear the proposal. In the
end, most of the supervisors caved to political pressure instead of voting
their consciences. Only Sups. Matt Gonzalez, Chris Daly, and Gerardo
Sandoval joined Ammiano in supporting the legislation.

The 24-hours'-notice policy was not intended to solve the problem of
homelessness. It was intended to stop the arbitrary confiscation of homeless
people's property  and perhaps change the way the city treats homeless
people. For too many years we have heard the same lines from city hall:
there are enough services; people choose to be homeless. The city elevates
the complaints of business owners while discounting the homeless community's
most basic human and civil rights. It orders the criminalization of every
aspect of homeless people's lives, but it can't explain why there is not
enough housing. 

Homelessness is not unique to San Francisco. Police and public works
employees across the country target homeless people, while federal and state
governments have abandoned housing, health care, education, and jobs as
priorities. This story gets told time and time again. The causes of
homelessness get twisted; homeless people become pawns by which elections
are won and lost. Homelessness gets politicized while practical solutions
from homeless people are ignored.

The Board of Supervisors was simply asked to stop the city's relentless
drive to eradicate homeless people from our community through harassment and
confiscation. Now we are worse off than when we started. The supervisors'
failure to recognize homeless people's property rights gives city
departments a green light to continue stealing their last belongings. The
Mayor's Office is beginning another pointless homeless count  but the real
story is that in the eyes of city hall, homeless people don't count at all.

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