Homeless targeted as election nears in San Francisco, CA, USA FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 26 Apr 1999 05:11:14 -0700 (PDT)


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http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/examiner/archive/1999/04/20/METRO10
257.dtl&type=printable
FWD  San Francisco Examiner - April 20, 1999

DESTITUTE ONCE AGAIN MADE A TARGET AS ELECTION NEARS

Mayor would make it a crime to beg by the side of the road

Rachel Gordon - of The Eaaminer Staff

Mayor Willie Brown has become the latest in a series of San
Francisco mayors to zero in on people who are down and out
as re-election draws near.

With just more than six months before he goes before
voters seeking a second term, Brown is backing
legislation to crack down on panhandlers.

For Brown's immediate predecessor, Frank Jordan, the
homeless people hunkered down in Golden Gate Park were in
the cross-hairs. He ordered police to sweep them out.

For Art Agnos, San Francisco's mayor before Jordan, it was
the clearing out of the infamous  "Camp Agnos"  homeless
encampment in Civic Center Plaza across the street from
the mayor's City Hall office.

This time around, people who use The City's median strips
or stand on freeway on- and off-ramps to beg for money are
election-year targets. Brown wants a law prohibiting
them from the practice.

Come election time, quality-of-life issues rank high on
the minds of candidates, perhaps because they rank high
with voters.

"Every time there's been an upcoming election, the
sitting mayors at the time have imposed crackdowns like
this,"  said Paul Boden, director of the Coalition on
Homelessness.  "There's certainly been a pattern, and
the message is clear: Get them out of sight and out of
mind."

The latest legislation, introduced by Supervisor Amos
Brown Monday, would make it illegal for anyone to sit,
stand or lie in roadways and median strips for more than a
few minutes. Violators would face a $100 fine on the first
offense, $200 for the second and $250 for the third within
a calendar year.

The mayor has steered clear of even hinting that the
proposed legislation, made public last month, has
anything to do with homeless people. Instead, he
describes it as a public safety initiative.

"We have had an alarming increase in pedestrian
fatalities in the last year, and I simply will not
tolerate activities that contribute to these avoidable
deaths,"  Mayor Brown said.

"I believe that for the safety of our citizens - both
pedestrians and motorists - this is a common-sense
approach to eliminating high-risk practices, such as
selling flowers and newspapers, and drive-by panhandling
in our streets and along median strips."

But while the number of pedestrian fatalities in The City
nearly doubled in 1998 from the year before, police were
hard-pressed to come up with examples that were connected
with roadside panhandling.

The American Civil Liberties Union already has voiced
concern about the ban, stating that the panhandlers'
First Amendment rights could be violated. If beggars are
posing safety risks, ACLU attorney John Crew said,
existing laws address errant behavior that disrupts
traffic.

In addition, aggressive panhandling is barred in The
City.

Boden, a frequent critic of the mayor's policies, was
skeptical of Mayor Brown's position that roadside
panhandlers posed a pedestrian safety risk, choosing to
believe that the real target was the homeless.

Supervisor Brown, who has led successful drives at the
Board of Supervisors over the past year to pass laws
banning public liquor consumption and camping in
Hallidie Plaza, Civic Center Plaza and U.N. Plaza, said
Monday such views were hogwash.

"This has nothing to do with homelessness,"  he said.
 "It's about safety. It's about order."

Supervisor Brown will usher the  "Pedestrian Safety
Act"  through the board's public hearing and
deliberations process on the mayor's behalf.

END FORWARD

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