AdviceSan Francisco

Prop Q Will Exacerbate San Francisco’s Homelessness Crisis

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A homeless woman, her possessions, and her dog on Division Street. Image from Orange County Register

This op-ed is written by Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness

A version of this originally ran in the SF Examiner Thursday August 18

A young African American man I talked to recently shared how he is living in an encampment near the now cleared Division Street. He came up out of foster care, can’t afford housing, and has no access to accumulated wealth.  Like all people, the young man wants nothing more then a safe and decent place to call home, the security of locked door, a soft bed, and more then anything he would like to get some rest, so he can get on with building a better life for himself. He, quite frankly, is tired. He is tired of trying to find a safe place to sleep, so he doesn’t bother anyone, and doesn’t get persistently woken up by police, street crews or anyone else. He needs a home.

The reality is that most likely, a home is out of his reach because San Francisco has not invested in truly solving homelessness.  We spend less then 3% of our budget on the most important issue facing SF.  Meanwhile, policy makers connive flam initiatives to deceive voters and fail to address the true causes.  This November, voters will be deciding on the most cynical homeless measure to date, and believe me there is plenty of competition, where Prop Q proponents argue for “housing, not tents” and then initiate a tent ban and include no provision for housing in the measure.  Getting someone off the streets with an offer of one night in shelter can only be called make believe.

Every few years, a politician puts yet another anti-homeless measure on the ballot, stirs up the fear and the hatred, in a twisted SF brand of Trump contrivance . San Francisco’s homeless policy and the broader debate has been primarily focused on enforcement of anti-homeless laws. Last year, we gave out over 27,000 citations to homeless folks, of which 14,000 were simply for resting.  We have 23 laws, the most in the state, that meet the legal definition of “anti-homeless” laws.  According to the Budget and Legislative Office, we spent $20.6 million on this enforcement last year and it has been a resounding failure. Homelessness has not only increased, but the population itself is saddled with fine derived debt and deteriorated mental and physical health. As individuals are ticketed, and their property is confiscated, they lose medications, survival gear and no longer quality for housing. The reason is obvious; we cannot address homelessness through enforcement – only housing solves the problem of a lack of a home.

dream house

The irony is THICK! Homeless people being cleared out from a Division Street encampment beneath a billboard boasting about a “Dream House” in San Francisco.

Tents of course are already illegal under state law, and police also use local laws such as sit/lie, obstructing sidewalks, health codes and others to cite people camped on the streets. Frequently, police just force people to move. The result is a sidewalk shuffle, from one block to another and back again. From local Police Captains to the Department of Justice to republicans in Texas – everyone agrees, you can’t ticket your way out of homelessness. Yet that reality has not stopped multiple ambitious San Francisco policy makers from riding into higher office on the already sore backs of homeless people.

Prop Q is particularly delusional. With multiple year waits for public housing, and over 700 people on waitlist for shelter, the city will likely hold shelter beds empty to ensure they have beds to offer encampments, exacerbating shelter waits further and sending more to the streets. This initiative calls for 24 hour notice, which of course no way can all the barriers to getting off the street be overcome in such a ridiculous time period. The city could not even get someone the required TB test in time to qualify for shelter, as results medically take three days.  In a particularly wicked twist they require city outreach reach workers to disband the encampments, eroding critical trust they have with their clients and ensuring they cannot locate them when a housing placement is ready.

The discourse around homelessness must focus on solutions. As long as policy makers continue to devise false solutions, resources and energy are diverted away from systemic change, the public gets more frustrated, and anti homeless sentiment is incited further. Homeless people have nowhere to go – shelters are full, housing is too expensive and unless we change our priorities, only the very lucky are able to escape the cold hard reality of residing on unfriendly sidewalks.

homeless woman

A San Francisco homeless woman and her tent. image from Mother Jones

The newly formed Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has the opportunity to resolve encampment issues. But this November measure, developed with no input from community stakeholders and most importantly, homeless people themselves, will tie the hands of the new department. It would relegate their efforts to having to carry politically motivated nonsensical policy that can only be changed by voters.

The issue of homelessness in our community requires thoughtful, strategic public policy that focuses on exits from homelessness to permanent housing. This effort must be led by those who have experienced homelessness and those working on the front lines to address it.  There is no reason this should be on the ballot, worse, it is bad form to use people experiencing homelessness as political pawns. Of course, so many of us are fighting like mad to get people out of tents, out of shelters, off the streets and out of the parks in to housing. We have two ballot measures that would ensure the revenue necessary to do just that, but it will take years for the housing to come to fruition. This initiative would exacerbate that crisis. As far as the young man I referred to earlier, he is already being moved from place to place, and he can tell you, at best, this initiative will only make it a whole lot harder for him to get off the streets.

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  1. September 3, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    The “homelessness” are not just the people on the streets. Entire families living in one room, seniors and people with disabilities in decrepit SRO’s, and Uber drivers living in their cars are out of sight and therefore out of mind; a roof is not a home. I’m pretty sure the word “homeless” does not appear in any of SPUR’s or Plan Bay Area’s projections. What is needed is a massive change in attitude about housing. Shelter is a human right, along with medical care, education, and food. Government at all levels must make these things priorities, instead of expanding the Carcel State and foriegn uh, “adventures.”

  2. Ben Toro
    September 11, 2016 at 9:09 am

    If you can’t afford to live in a city, you should move somewhere you can. Your story forgets to mention the part about how your young protagonist lead-in doesn’t have a job, actively sells heroin and uses his tent as a bicycle chop shop to fuel his addiction. The glossy “down on his luck” veneer of this story is the very opposite of reality: tents are used almost exclusively as havens for drug abuse, violence and stolen property. Pro tip: write articles that develop credibility with the reader instead of “Homelessness is problem, I have no solutions, but let me tell you some fantastical tidbit about this guy I met while I ignore the facts”

    • Tsuyoi Kuma
      September 13, 2016 at 11:36 am

      If you can’t stand San Francisco’s liberal politics you should move somewhere where your bull-pucky views and lack of human empathy would be encouraged by your equally heartless neighbors. We don’t need or want people with your horrendous views here. Homeless people don’t just disappear because you don’t want to see them nor are the problems that create homelessness addressed by moving to somewhere cheaper where a person will still likely be homeless (and just “somebody else’s problem”).

      • Ben Toro
        September 13, 2016 at 11:51 am

        Hey Tsuyoi. Thanks for the note. You casually forgot to address anything I pointed out in my comment about the reality of homelessness (no big deal). You are probably right that moving out of one of the top five most expensive cities in the world won’t give them a better shot at not being homeless. Wait … Actually you are completely wrong. Please finish your GED and then we can chat.

      • Tsuyoi Kuma
        September 13, 2016 at 5:34 pm

        Except that places that are cheaper to live also tend to have fewer jobs available and fewer services that someone trying to get out of homelessness would need. Also those magical “cheaper” places still have homeless people themselves currently, so that plan you seem to have heard of, in which people without homes are given keys to their new residences once they enter the limits of a cheaper city, isn’t an actual thing. Maybe you’ve been too focused on finally finishing your GED figure out how the real world works. You’ll get there eventually, keep up the hard work! We’re really looking forward to you joining us in reality.

      • Ben Toro
        September 13, 2016 at 6:34 pm

        While you would like to believe your specious arguments are true (based entirely on speculation – cheaper places have less opportunity – that sounds right – I’ll use that!), unfortunately folks invented these pesky little things called facts. Below, I’ve copied a link to the highest per capita job markets in the US and LO and BEHOLD, SF isn’t even in the top 20 (but it is in the top 2 for highest cost of living). Facts, Tsuyoi, they’ll get you every time. Said another way, there are at least 23 other places in just the US that have far more opportunities and cost far less. Your bankrupt logic can’t even get you out of the comment section of this blog. Pro tip: next time you concoct a view, make sure it’s not empirically wrong.

      • Tsuyoi Kuma
        September 13, 2016 at 8:00 pm

        Sorry I didn’t realize that you were actually a parody account – who else would produce a report from a job listing website (even a very popular one like Indeed) as somehow proof of national trends as if it’s a requirement the everyone in the country use Indeed to list a job?

        But I’ll still respond for those who might make the mistake of taking you seriously (including yourself). Even if Indeed’s results were taken to be 100% accurate for some reason, it wouldn’t help your argument at all as everyone of those cities listed regardless of ranking vs. cost of living and indeed most every city in this country, large or small, rich or poor, relatively cheap to live in or expensive has homeless people or victims of housing insecurity in them. Your myopic argument that somehow moving to a cheaper location will address all of the issues that cause people to be homeless outside of financial issues (of which there are plenty) clearly makes no sense in practice and is only rooted in your own self interest and laziness. If you’re in San Francisco, by all means please get out if you don’t like it – no one wants you here and you clearly can’t make it.

      • Ben Toro
        September 13, 2016 at 10:03 pm

        When you have no argument, question the validity of a twelve year old company in 50 countries, 28 languages covering 94% of GDP whose sole function is to measure jobs – I don’t think even you believe you.

        Once again, Tsuyoi, befuddled by those pesky facts that keep coming back to bite you.

        You are clearly missing the point. If protagonists like the one portrayed in this article are not committing crimes in their tents (which they invariably are and you seem to consistently ignore), they should move somewhere they can afford, of which there are ample locations, as demonstrated by empirical evidence.

        With luck, you too will leave SF so we won’t have to hear you droll on about how poor you are while expecting the rest of us to prop you up with handouts. I hear Salt Lake City is nice (Indeed research)

      • Ben Toro
        September 16, 2016 at 9:17 pm

        Tsuyoi – In an effort to prevent you from continuing to embarrass yourself by spouting off your uncalibrated, fact-free views, I’ve pasted below a comment from a former homeless person that appeared today in Mission Local. Please get a clue so we no longer have to read your written diarrhea.


        As a formerly homeless person in SF in the last 5 years I can honestly say this is the most unrealistic idea I have heard.

        I spent over 1 calendar year from 2013-2014 homeless and I only slept outside 2 nights. The rest of the time I was in shelters.

        I know from first hand experience the dynamic that plays out between the homeless population and the city.

        Sadly it is true that the majority of the homeless do not have an interest in working. Those that do want to work most often cannot because of a criminal record, a mental illness, the tight economy, or lack of education.

        Those that sleep on the street regularly are there because they refuse to conform to shelter rules of curfew.

        The shelters are not holiday inns by any means: they are cramped, unpleasant, and dangerous. It is no exaggeration that theft and fights are the daily norm and sometimes result in fatalities. Ask anyone about MSC South.

        Each day more destitute people migrate to San Francisco because of the generous services that are here. In my time homeless I GAINED weight. Anyone on the street asking money for food is full of bs.

        As long as the services are given free with mostly no accountability the homeless population will increase. The average homeless person gets placed in a city subsidized SRO after about a year wait.

        Most homeless who CHOOSE to sleep on street have substance abuse issues. Of those squatting on the street, because that is what they are doing, I estimate well over half are theives.

      • Tsuyoi Kuma
        September 17, 2016 at 12:50 pm

        Hilarious! As if it wasn’t sad enough that you needed to reply a second time (on a Friday night none the less, did you find your schedule was open after your hand told you it needed to wash its hair or something?) to my comment from three days beforehand after I didn’t reply to your first comment because I realized that you were bordering on idiocy with the spurious arguements and “proof” or “facts” you were offering up, the only thing you can offer up as further proof of your arguments is one person’s anecdotal comment (who you in no way know) from a website local to SF as proof of national and global trends?

        Please learn what an actual fact is and get a life (in whatever order you can figure things out). Also, please enjoy your life in the suburbs (soon).

      • Ben Toro
        September 17, 2016 at 1:45 pm

        Sorry Tsuyoi – We are getting rid of your tent in November – nothing you can do to stop it. BUT, we’ll still let you serve us fries at the drive-through! Think about a gofundme for your GED. It will help everyone avoid your baseless ranting and maybe move you up from fries to shakes! Also of note, this article is based on SF (not a national or global trend, that indeed FACT was used to clinically disprove your assumption that other places don’t have as many opps). Second, this article is based on a ludicrous fantasy story of an SF homeless person (my original point) which is why another FIRST PERSON account is completely relevant. PLEASE try to keep up Tsuyoi – I know it’s hard. (Sidebar: I enjoy just completely eviscerating you in every comment so please keep commenting 🙂