If they won't write the truth, WRITE IT FOR THEM!!!

Coalition on Homelessness, SF (coh@sfo.com)
Wed, 20 Oct 1999 11:26:49 -0800

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Anyone interested should log on to http://www.sfgate.com and do an 
open search on the keyword 'shopping carts'.  A lot has been said in 
the SF CHRONICLE and EXAMINER this past week about the Mayor, and 
homeless people, and shopping carts.

One thing's for sure, this is the only article about the 'issue' that 
was written by anyone who had ever pushed one across town.

We truly were shocked that the public could only be roused out of 
complacency when homeless people's shopping carts were threatened.

157 members of our human family perished on San Francisco's streets 
last year - the most homeless deaths in the ten years since we 
started tracking them.

If we can lower that number, maybe we can improve everybody's 
'quality of life'.


chance martin
Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco

A Burden Too Heavy

Chance Martin, Terry Messman
Wednesday, October 20, 1999
1999 San Francisco Chronicle


MAYOR BROWN suffered the stinging bite of reality last week from the
same electorate he has shamelessly described as hissing snakes.

His major mayoral misstep?: a plan to confiscate shopping carts.

Brown's scheme to repossess the only means for homeless people to keep
their last earthly possessions -- and to steal their last shreds of
human dignity in the process -- triggered a visceral revulsion from the
public. Even in these times of ``compassion fatigue'' amid heedless
affluence, the transparent heartlessness of Brown's plan led to its own

Mayor Brown then shouted that homeless advocates and the media were
responsible for misrepresenting his intentions when his own strong words
supporting the plan were directly responsible for the venom he received.

As the story unfolded, unsettling questions were left unanswered. The
most puzzling riddle is this: How can San Francisco continue to permit
hundreds of people to die miserable, lonely deaths in our streets with
barely a whisper, yet become perversely outraged when homeless people's
property is threatened?

Where is the outcry when thousands of homeless women, children and men
who lose the shelter lottery are forced to sleep in our streets and back

Where is the protest when people are arrested by police again and again
if they commit the ``crime'' of falling asleep outdoors or covering up
with a blanket?

Aren't we all profoundly heartsick that thousands are forced to live
hungry, malnourished, ill, often the victims of rape and assault in our

The scandalous predicament of life- threatening poverty -- in one of the
most affluent cities in the wealthiest nation on Earth -- is a shock to
the conscience and a blight on our professed ideals as a democracy. This
should be the only wake-up call we need to rouse our slumbering public
conscience. It's long past time for us to renounce tired attempts to
unleash the police on people too poor to afford housing in our nation's
most inflated real-estate market.

We mustn't allow those concerned about ``quality of life'' to leap into
the abyss of hatred of those who suffer the most from poverty.
Politicians, business owners and neighborhood residents who scapegoat
homeless people are traveling down a dark road of bigotry -- one that
history proves can harm our democracy far more than a few shopping

People of good will must join together to end homelessness by
demanding affordable housing, living-wage jobs, decent health care,
mental health services and substance-use treatment for all who need
them. We must compel candidates for every elected office in America to
demonstrate their will to make these simple, proven solutions to
homelessness and poverty a reality.

But people of ill-will continue to jump on da mayor's bandwagon, or even
provide a push to speed it along. History will remember them telling the
poorest of the poor: ``It's OK that there's no place for you to sleep --
because we just provided $250,000 for the city attorney to prosecute you
for sleeping in our parks and doorways. It's OK to require you to perform
compulsory labor for survival money -- because we wouldn't consider you
for a real, living- wage job with dignity. It's OK that our police can't
contain the local trade in illegal drugs -- because we can prosecute you
for using them and then make you wait endless months for treatment. It's
OK to replace your cash assistance with a ``voucher'' for hotel rooms
that don't even exist -- because we don't want you to live here.''

We are racing toward a society where the only sure access to mental
health services or substance-use treatment for poor people is in prison,
and the only place where homeless people can sleep is in a dark alley or
a jail cell.

That's a heavy burden to carry around in a shopping cart.

Chance Martin is editor of Street Sheet, published by the Coalition on
Homelessness. Terry Messman is editor of Street Spirit, published by the
American Friends Service Committee.

1999 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A23


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