MATRIX for San Francisco's homeless was the "good old days"? FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 14 May 1999 19:17:51 -0700 (PDT)

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Was MATRIX the "good old days" for San Francisco's homeless?
If you experienced Martrix, do you agree or disagree?  Why?
FWD  San Francisco Examiner - Tuesday, May 11, 1999


     Scott Winokur - Examiner Columnist

POOR OLD feckless Frank Jordan: The mayor of lost causes, the reputedly
inept bozo who couldn't buy a  break. But history will treat our
ex-hizzoner with more respect, I hope.

Say what you will, Jordan was the only one of our last three mayors to have
a handle on the homeless mess. He got kicked in the teeth for his Matrix
program, but doesn't Matrix look good in retrospect?

Jordan was a moderate reformer on the homeless issue, which remains tied
with Muni as The City's No. 1 problem. Willie Brown duplicitously pandered
to mindless bleeding hearts by knocking Matrix and then tossing it - only
now he's tossing the homeless.

In Brown's wicked wake, we have the business community proposing a
draconian overhaul of General Assistance. Led by former City Human Services
commissioner Earl Rhinocerous - I mean, Rynerson - the Hotel Council and a
group of 40 business owners and merchants are trying to get a measure on
the November ballot that would cut GA's cash allotment to $43 a month. They
argue that GA is rife with fraud, that many receiving the county funds are
scoundrels addled by drugs and alcohol.

Eight fivers and change for The City's 11,000 GA recipients? There are
teens in some Bay Area neighborhoods with larger allowances.

In 1994, I was given the assignment of looking at Matrix closely. I liked
what I saw. Matrix was, at worst, tough love. At best, it was a genuine
second chance. Its numbers were not impressive, but who could have expected
them to be, with a target population notoriously resistant to help?

"Show me something better," a Central Station cop said while we were
tagging along behind a pair of Matrix outreach workers in the Union Square

I couldn't. I don't believe anyone can in our unregimented society. This is
not Cuba or Singapore.

Under Matrix, GA was $345 a month, which wasn't half bad, especially if you
could supplement it with significant amounts of spare change. Jordan
intelligently tried to attach strings to this relatively generous bequest,
by earmarking most of it for shelter and providing psychiatric and
substance-abuse treatment. That was the carrot.

The stick was simple law enforcement. The City's cops were instructed to
enforce laws against nuisance behavior such as public drinking, obstructing
sidewalks, public urination, loitering and camping in the parks.

Quite reasonable. But others disagreed, and Brown rode to victory partly by
appealing to voters on the left who seemed wedded to unrealistic notions
about what was possible and proper in the way of reforming derelicts.
Jordan was ripped, relentlessly, by knee-jerk civil libertarians who think
civil liberty is the freedom to destroy yourself and ruin things for the
rest of us.

Ensconced in office, the dapper Brown set about the task of dandifying not
only City Hall, but our public spaces. This meant the homeless got the

Four years later, the man who attacked Jordan for being harsh on the
homeless has turned out to be harsher and less helpful. This sort of slick
hypocrisy is commonplace in American politics, however; I doubt the mayor
fears he will be held accountable for it.

Since Matrix, GA has gone through a major evolution. It is no longer simply
a show-your-sorry-butt-and-collect deal.

It is actually four separate Human Services Department programs, three of
which pay $355 a month to people who sign up for job training or have a
permanent or temporary disability.

The last is straight GA, at $287 a month, with a Workfare requirement. The
go-out-and-find-them effort that was Matrix is history.

Let us say Rhinocerous & Co. are successful and choke off the homeless to
the extent of $244 a month (the difference between the current $287 and

Will the homeless call their travel agents and arrange for transportation
to more munificent locales? Doubtful. No, I think San Francisco's homeless
situation will only deteriorate further.

Under Matrix, Jordan proposed to throw them a lifeline. Unfortunately, that
was considered politically retrograde. It should have been seen for what it
was - a righteous attempt to chip away at an immense problem.

Thanks for trying, Frank. You knew what you were doing. You just had lousy
public relations.


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