Force homeless into treatment & welfare hotels, SF Mayor Brown

Tom Boland (
Sun, 17 Oct 1999 17:14:46 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  San Francisco Examiner - Saturday, Oct 16, 1999


     By Rachel Gordon of The Examiner Staff

Mayor Willie Brown has called The City's homeless problem manageable but
not solvable and laid out a number of programs to help get street people

   The mayor, speaking to The Examiner editorial board on Friday, wants to
force homeless people on General Assistance to use a portion of their
welfare stipends to rent rooms in city-owned residential hotels.

   Frank Jordan, Brown's predecessor in the mayor's office and now a
challenger in the upcoming mayor's race, tried to implement a similar
voter-approved project during his tenure but was blocked by a hostile and
more liberal Board of Supervisors. Brown's relationship with the board is
much more cozy; he appointed six of the legislative body's 11 members and
has close political ties with three others.

   Brown also wants to lobby for a change in the law to make it easier for
authorities to force the mentally ill living on the streets into treatment
programs. Similar efforts in other cities, most prominently New York City,
have been challenged by civil rights activists.

   Getting people help they need, Brown said, "is the bottom line."

   Brown, who faces voters Nov. 2 in an election in which homelessness is a
top issue, said he is under no illusion that he can solve the problem. "But
I can manage it," he said.

   Brown was asked to comment on how New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
successfully tackled the problem in his city, yet it remains so vexing here.

   "What Giuliani has done is he has managed to have the political support
and the authority to move people along," Brown said.

   San Francisco, he noted, is decidedly different, with a strong
contingent of community activists and elected leaders who would wage a
vigorous fight against such an endeavor.

   Still, Brown said he has no desire to wield authority like Giuliani has.
"I don't think it would be healthy for us in San Francisco," he said.

   The mayor suggested that he's also in a Catch-22. On one hand, he is
being told by certain constituents, particularly in the neighborhood
business community and hospitality industry, to clean up the streets and
clear out the homeless.

   "But the day you do it, you get called a bad person. You can't just
interfere with people's rights," he said.

   Brown experienced that most recently when his administration geared up
to confiscate shopping carts from homeless people. Public outcry forced him
this week to retreat.

   He also may run into difficulties with his plan to require welfare
recipients who live on the streets or in shelters to live in residential
hotels, particularly from homeless advocates who don't want homeless people
to be forced to do anything against their will.

   Brown, however, is hoping that his proposed program would be different
from Jordan's on several fronts. First, he wants it directly linked to
social service and health care programs. Second, The City would own the
hotels and turn them over to nonprofit agencies to run them, which he said
would assure that they would meet adequate habitability standards.

   The City already has started such a hotel voucher program for General
Assistance recipients on a small scale, but participation is voluntary.

   One of the biggest complaints about Jordan's proposal was that the
hotels that were to be used were considered by homeless activists to be
dirty and unsafe and they had too many rules.

   Under Brown's plan, no one would be kept out of the hotels for being
drunk, drug-addicted or violent. Each tenant would be provided his or her
own room with a lock and key.

   "The most difficult people to manage are the ones who are still on the
streets, and we want to eliminate that," Brown said.


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