[Hpn] Chance Martin making a difference

William CharlesTinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Wed, 12 Feb 2003 16:13:42 -0500


02/12/2003
 
 The Street Sheet screams
 
 BY BOB ARMSTRONG
Special to The Examiner
 
 WHAT IS THE homeless activists' problem? 

Better to ask,what isn't?
 
     The Coalition on Homelessness, along with many
 nonprofit organizations that provide services to the
 down-and-outers, want more permanent housing, more
 substance abuse programs, more care for the mentally ill,
 more public toilets, more healthcare and more bang for the
 buck in existing services.
 
     The activists claim that arresting people for sleeping
 on Market Street, pissing on a parking meter or waving an
 empty cup at the top of a BART escalator is pointless.
 
     Those suffering will only suffer more, they say.
 
     November's passage of Proposition N cuts monthly
 General Assistance allowances, currently in the $320-$395
 range, to $59 for about 3,000 down-and-outers.
 
     Chance Martin, arguably a top gun among the homeless
 advocates, says the street dwellers are America's "social
 class of untouchables, the scapegoats of a corrupt system."
 
     As the editor of Street Sheet, the monthly newspaper
 sold by homeless vendors, his voice echoes from the
 encampment in front of the Mission Creek pump station to
 the corridors of power in City Hall.
 
     Martin, once homeless himself, grew up in Gary, Ind. He
 dropped out of high school in 1972 and shortly thereafter
 got busted on a drug charge.
 
     He avoided jail by joining the Air Force, and after his
 discharge spent many years gainfully employed. In the
 mid-'80s things fell apart -- divorce, drugs, unemployment,
 becoming suicidal and, eventually, homeless by the Bay.
 
     "I was winged out. They gave me Prozac. It did not
 work," he said pointing to a packet of "bad reminder" pills
 tacked on his office wall beneath a Salvador Dali poster.
 
     Even in the worst of times Martin found writing
 therapeutic.
 
     His stories in Street Sheet, the agit-prop arm of the
 Coalition on Homelessness, are laced with a controlled
 fury. "Homelessness has become an industry filled with
 unresponsive bureaucrats pulling down $100,000-a-year
 salaries." The police "divide, conquer and disperse the
 homeless, criminalize them with 'quality of life' laws and
 toss them in jail."
 
     Martin's attacks are directed with equal scorn all
 around, but his favorite target is the San Francisco
 Chronicle. "It's the newspaper of lies portraying the face
 of all homeless people as drug addicts," he said while
 puffing away on an American Spirit cigarette.
 
     Martin won't be the guest of honor at any of Gavin
 Newsom's campaign events, but like Newsom he won't be going
 away anytime soon.
 
     Comment: letters@examiner.com
 
     Bob Armstrong is a freelance journalist who lives in
 The City. This is part one of two; part two will appear in
 Thursday's Examiner.