PROTEST SF police sweeps of homeless: 21-day fast starts Feb 17

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 7 Feb 1999 19:35:16 -0800 (PST)


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PROTEST San Francisco police sweeps of homeless people from downtown
business districts.  A 21-day fast starts Feb 17, with demonstrations daily
at Noon at City Hall.  See related article below:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/examiner/hotnews/stories/07/salter0
7.dtl&type=printable
FWD  San Francisco Examiner - Sunday, February 7, 1999

     CITY'S CONSCIENCE ON HOMELESSNESS

     By Stephanie Salter of the Examiner Staff


       THEY STOOD in a huge circle at the steps of City Hall, held hands
and prayed for wisdom and compassion to flood the hearts of the San
Francisco Board of Supervisors.

       Jew, Protestant, Catholic, Quaker, Universalist, Buddhist and
"other," the three dozen religious women and men who gathered last week to
firmly protest The City's latest organized sweep of the homeless are
intrepid. One of them -- Unitarian minister Kay Jorgensen -- refers to the
group as "the faithful fools."

       When inspired, they come together and speak for people no one wants
to listen to -- the poverty-stricken, the addicted, the unbathed, the
insane, the luckless. Their bond is a belief in the inherent worth of all
people.

       Even people who stink or are addicted to heroin.

       If a city can have a conscience, surely San Francisco's rests in
this loosely connected coalition of ministers, monks and mavericks. And
like any good conscience, this one is bothersome. Especially when its
members believe they hear b.s.

       Which is what they believe they hear in the new-old plan by
Supervisor Amos Brown to crack down on the poor and screwed-up who inhabit
The City's public parks and plazas. Despite laws against public drunkenness
and drug use, overnight camping and employing the sidewalks as toilets, a
small percentage of San Francisco's sizable homeless population has engaged
big-time in such behavior.

       So, Supervisor Brown -- with the support of Mayor Brown and most of
the board -- has launched yet another in a decade-long series of police
sweeps of the homeless. (Each sweep has managed only a temporary scattering
of the offenders to outlying neighborhoods.) For now, the action is
concentrated downtown at the United Nations and Hallidie plazas.

       "What this measure is about is order, it's about safety, it's about
security," said Brown, who is also a Baptist minister. "It has nothing to
do with being mean spirited to the homeless."

       The Rev. Glenda Hope, a Presbyterian minister, disagrees. Unlike
Rev. Brown and his supporters, she does not buy the idea that most people
with genuine options choose to live like animals.

       "The real issue here is what it's been for years: a lack of any
comprehensive, long-term plan for the homeless," said Hope. "People are
overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. They want to do something, but
they don't know what. Making it a crime to lie down in a public park is not
the answer."

       Like her colleagues, Hope sees unavoidable mean spiritedness in
targeting so-called lifestyle criminals without providing anything to help
them escape their squalor.

       For all the talk of patrols of outreach workers, there are few such
official beings. The caseload for social workers is 80 to 1. Waiting lists
for public detox and rehab programs are months long. And, according to
Maggie Donahue, the head of homeless programs for The City's Department of
Human Services, there are 4,500 to 5,000 homeless adults here -- twice as
many folks as there are available shelter beds.

       Then there are the kids, whom former city homeless coordinator Bob
Prentiss contends are "the major portion of the homeless."

       "This is a tough problem and everybody wants a quick fix," said Tom
Ammiano, the board president and one of three supervisors to oppose Rev.
Brown's plan. "I'd never defend anybody shooting crack or urinating in
public, but the people who support Amos' plan make it look like that's what
we favor.

       "A handful of the criminal element becomes "the homeless.' The
people who are service-resistant are used as emblematic of the entire
group. The true homeless are caught in a squeeze play."

       Something that galls the group is the more than 400 units of
available housing that make up the Wherry complex in the Presidio. Last
June, voters passed Proposition L, a non-binding advisory measure that,
among other things, asked that planned demolitions of the former military
housing be halted and the units offered for rent.

       The national park's overseer, the Presidio Trust, will comply by
leasing most Wherry apartments to students and park employees at market
rates -- $2,000 to $3,200 a month.

       This is immoral to people like Hope, Jorgensen, the Rev. Louie
Vitale, Sister Bernie Galvin and the rest of the coalition. So, on Feb. 17,
they will begin a 21-day food fast with demonstrations each day at noon at
City Hall. They want local lawmakers to lean on the trust. "You can fast
for one day or all 21," Vitale told his friends in the prayer circle. "But
our hope is to get 682 people to sign up. That's the number of San
Franciscans who've died on the streets in the years we've been waiting for
Wherry housing."

END FORWARD

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