San Fran Board OK's Homeless Crackdown 7-3 as Clergy vigils FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 2 Feb 1999 13:03:40 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  San Francisco Chronicle  Tuesday, February 2, 1999  Page A13


       Clergy holds vigil as board approves plan

       Edward Epstein, Chronicle Staff Writer

       Clergy prayed outside San Francisco's City Hall yesterday for the
Board of Supervisors to drop plans to crack down on the homeless.

       But they did not change any minds, as the board gave final approval
to a plan of Supervisor Amos Brown, himself a Baptist minister, to rid two
downtown plazas of illegal behavior.

       Brown's proposal allows the city to bring Hallidie and United
Nations plazas under the city's park code, which would permit bans on
nighttime sleeping and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The plan,
supported by Mayor Willie Brown, comes on top of a crackdown on the
homeless who once hung out in Civic Center Plaza.

       The plan has stirred opposition among homeless advocates, who say it
merely criminalizes poverty.

       ``Some of us must struggle each day just to survive,'' said the Rev.
Kay Jorgenson of the Unitarian Universalist Tenderloin Street Ministry as
she joined about 50 other people in a prayer circle on the steps of City

       ``May we realize we are more alike than we ever knew,'' Jorgenson
said. ``Bless the meeting of the supervisors today.''

       Later, a few of the clergy and their supporters watched silently as
Supervisor Brown's proposal sailed through final passage by the board.

       Brown trumped the clergy who opposed him by announcing that Catholic
Archbishop William Levada had endorsed his plan, after being assured that
it was tied to getting homeless people into shelters and treatment for
those with mental health or substance abuse problems.

       ``This is the right thing to do,'' Brown said of his proposal.
``This is not about criminal persons. . . . Our only concern is about
behavior in these areas where we've had large congregations of people who
have not been law-abiding.''

       After a meeting in Mayor Brown's office yesterday, the supervisor
announced that the city will add 100 shelter beds by spring. City Hall
sources said the city is looking at using the old Fire Department
headquarters on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin.

       Supervisor Brown said police estimate that about 100 homeless people
gather in U.N. and Hallidie plazas. The city's emergency shelters have
about 2,900 beds, but homeless activists say they are full much of the

       Brown also asked Board of Supervisors' budget analyst Harvey Rose to
study how the city is spending $60 million a year on the homeless. He wants
Rose to focus on spending for substance abuse and mental health programs.

       Adding to the religious flavor of the debate, Supervisor Mark Leno,
a former rabbinical student, explained why he supported Brown's move.

       ``I have not reached my own position without lots of thought and
introspection,'' he told his colleagues.

       ``But by keeping the status quo, we are turning public spaces into
de facto shelters. But we are investing in more shelters,'' he said, along
with more treatment programs.

       Outside, the Rev. Peter Sammons of St. Teresa's Church on Potrero
Hill and a leader of the Bay Area Organizing Committee decried the new

       ``It's a draconian way of solving the problem,'' he said. ``Nobody
in the religious community wants to identify with the criminal part of the
homeless problem.

       ``But I hope efforts like this today will grow,'' Sammons said.

       The board passed Brown's proposal 7 to 3, with no votes changed from
last week's initial approval. Those opposed were Tom Ammiano, Sue Bierman
and Leland Yee. Supervisor Barbara Kaufman, who voted for the idea last
week, was absent.


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