Homelessness: the media’s big problem

The words and images we use matter; they create perceptions that drive public policy

[UPDATED: This story has been updated to reflect a correction in Chronicle Editor Audrey Cooper’s experience with homeless people having sex in a tent and her motivation for the homeless project.]

 

These are some of the headlines we saw in the San Francisco Chronicle this past year:

“San Francisco’s summer of urine and drug-addicted homeless.”

“Amid rising disgust, SF scrambles to flush stench from streets.”

“Flood of homeless in tent camp just small part of problem.”

“Mayor Lee’s Superbowl homeless plan is a breath of fresh air.”

There are others, less graphic:

“Myths, like the homeless problem, not going away.”

“Homeless problem can’t be swept away.”

This image of a menacing looking shirtless man with a shopping cart is all too typical of images of homeless people. (Does he have a name?)
This image of a menacing looking shirtless man with a shopping cart is all too typical of images of homeless people. (Does he have a name?). Photo by Lea Suzuki, SF Chronicle

There have been some very good stories (by reporters like Heather Knight) and some truly atrocious ones (by columnists C.W. Nevius and Deborah Saunders).

But overall, the Chron coverage of homeless people over the past year – until this week — has focused on problems way more than solutions, and is littered with words like “drugs,” “Drug-addicted,” “filth,” “feces,” and “crime.”

The papers editorials have consistently praised the mayor for his crackdowns – but have been alarmingly short on any positive suggestions, especially those that cost money or protect the rights of homeless people.

In 2012, when then-Assemblymember Tom Ammiano proposed a Bill of Rights for homeless people, the Chron mocked it as a “bad idea” and said it was “an absurd reaction to restrictions on homeless conduct and tough-love ideas such as San Francisco’s “Care Not Cash” program that substitutes housing and counseling services for welfare checks.”

As part of our work in the media project on homelessness, we decided to look at how the most dominant news media outlet in the city – and that’s still the Chronicle – addressed the issue over the past year.

Most of the problems we found are not unique to the Chron; they are common to local news media coverage. And they are persistent.

We’ve searched through SF Chronicle.com and SFGate.com, and identified more than 100 stories, columns, and editorials with the words “homeless” or “homelessness” in them.

A passed-out, unnamed homeless person depicted on sfistcreates an image of drunks and drug addicts
A passed-out, unnamed homeless person depicted on sfist creates an image of drunks and drug addicts. Photo by Marc Flores

We included all types of coverage: Straightforward news reports, house editorials, guest opeds, and staff columns. Together, they create the overall penumbra, the picture of how homeless people are perceived, by the newspaper that still sets the mainstream political agenda.

We graded every story on a 1-5 basis – not for accuracy or for completeness or even for political approach but for how that story presented homeless people. Stories that repeatedly used keywords like “drugs” and “filth” got a 1 or 2; stories that showed who the people on the streets really are, in a more accurate and nuanced fashion, got a 4 or 5.

Our goal was to see not whether the Chron is accurate or missing stories or ignoring problems – but how consumers of media are taught to see homeless people.

That appearance matters – a lot. When the majority of the portrayals of homeless people use the terms “drug-addict” or “filth,” it creates a visceral impression for the readers. It sets the tone of how people view the human beings who, in many cases, were our neighbors until they were evicted or lost their homes.

When the New York Times refers to our neighbors as “clumps of humanity” and says things like this:

“San Francisco residents have over decades become inured to encounters with the city’s homeless population, the clumps of humanity sleeping on sidewalks under coats and makeshift blankets, or drug addicts shooting up in full view of pedestrians. There are also the tension-filled but common scenes of mentally ill men and women stumbling down streets, arguing with imaginary enemies or harassing passers-by.”

Or the Chron’s Kevin Fagan leads off the current series with this:

still, the city remains home to sprawling tent cities, junkies squatting on blankets shooting heroin, and all manner of anguished destitute people and beggars holding out hands.

(excuse me: “beggars?” I was taught 35 years ago at my first newspaper job never to use that word)

You get an impression. And it isn’t a nice one.

Truth is, many, many homeless people are neither drug addicts nor severely mentally ill. If you actually go and talk to people living on the streets, you hear stories of people who are just like the rest of us, except for the misfortune to live in a city and a society that treats housing as a privilege available only to those who have large amounts of money.

This picture of Sabrina, taken by Rebecca Bowe for the Bay Guardian in 2014, is a very different image of homeless people
This picture of Sabrina, taken by Rebecca Bowe for the Bay Guardian in 2014, is a very different image of homeless people

But the more we treat the issue as one of dealing with a population of squatting junkies and people who live in filth and shit in the streets (excuse me – no bathrooms) and attract rodents and are a public-health menace, the more that “emergency” solutions like police sweeps and criminalization appear attractive.

If we treat the people living on the streets for who they are – our neighbors who may have all sorts of issues (as many of our housed neighbors do) and are no different from us except that our society has failed them, then different types of solutions start to sound appealing.

I happen to have known many people who live indoors, in houses or apartments in San Francisco, who’ve had mental-health challenges. I’ve known people with serious substance-abuse challenges. The difference between them and the people on the streets is that they’ve have a roof over their heads and were able to do what they did in private. Because they were behind closed doors, they don’t become “quality of life” problems for people who walk by.

Audrey Cooper, the Chron’s editor, told the NYTimes “the issue became personal for her” when she passed by a couple having sex in a tent, with the flap open, and a pit bull standing guard. I think it’s fair to say that many of the people who have homes in San Francisco also have sex, and dogs. But they have a bit of privacy.

Words matter; the way we portray people matters. Most of the news media no longer use words like “crippled” or “retarded.” Long ago, I learned to use “people with AIDS” instead of “AIDS victims.” There’s a long list of words that we don’t use, because some portrayals of people are inherently derogatory.

So how does the Chron do?

Well, if you take out CW Nevius, who just brings down the average, the paper over about 100 stories averaged 2.8. If you want to assume that 3 out of 5 is fine and “objective,” that’s okay, but that’s not what we were looking for.

We’re looking for overall image – and frankly, there are a lot of problems. They go far beyond the Chronicle – nearly every major news media outlet in this town has fallen into the trap of blaming homeless people for the fact that they don’t have a place of their own to sleep.

In that sense, anything below about a 4 is a problem.

Let’s look at a few examples:

In an April 15, 2006 article, columnist Willie Brown talked about homeless camps resembling “the slums of Kolkata.” (Do we even use the word “slums” these days? I guess Willie gets to.)

March 9, 2016, Deborah Saunders:

When you get off BART at the Civic Center and Powell Street stations, you see people sleeping in de facto encampments in hallways — and the platforms stink of urine. In bad weather, walking through Civic Center and Powell stations can feel downright menacing. When taxpayers don’t feel safe taking BART, when all they see is squalor, they will find other ways to get around

(Actually, I go through those BART stations all the time, and I almost never see anyone who seems “menancing.” Which is a pretty strong word.)

Brandon Mercer, Aug. 25, 2015:

Walking up Mission Street, passing a woman with festering, puss-filled lesions along her legs, watching a man lying on his back on the concrete, writhing and grunting, and hearing a man screaming obscenities at firefighters in an ambulance — all within the same block on the same morning– it hit me. The solution to San Francisco’s homeless problem is simple.

STOP CALLING THEM HOMELESS.

San Francisco has a mental health problem, and there are 7,500 people, most with some degree of mental illness, wandering the streets.

(Yes, there are homeless people who are mentally ill. Most homeless people do not meet anything close to the description Mercer presents here.)

Matier and Ross, Aug. 24, 2015:

San Francisco’s streets are becoming one big toilet — with druggies, drunks and the mentally ill openly defecating on downtown’s busiest boulevards.

(“Druggies?” “Drunks?” really?)

C.W. Nevius, Aug. 10, 2015:

the stench on the streets, homeless sidewalk campers and recklessly unhinged individuals roaming the neighborhoods unsupervised.

(“Recklessly unhinged? I don’t even call Chuck that, although I may have to start.)

There are plenty of other examples of times when Chron writers consistently describe homeless people in terms that we would not find acceptable for, say, the disabled community, people with diseases, or people who are victims of war, fire, famine, etc.

That dehumanizing portrayal – and yes, sometimes that’s what it is – reinforces the idea that people who are homeless are at fault, that they are on the streets because they have done something wrong. Which impacts the way the public sees the problem and the way City Hall comes up with solutions.

Some of the people who lost their homes in the recent Mission fire could easily wind up living on the streets. The ones who were already facing challenges, like a disabled man I met who is living on SSI, could see their disabilities (particularly if they are mental-health disabilities) get much worse, quickly.

If you don’t think living on the streets makes you more likely to develop (or exacerbate) a substance-abuse problem or develop (or exacerbate) a mental-health problem, just try it sometime.

Will we refer to those people as “crazy” or “drunks” or “recklessly unhinged?” I hope not. Maybe we should call them what they are: Refugees, fleeing eviction, or fire, or abusive home situations, or evil landlords who want to get even richer, or suffering from medical conditions that our society is not willing to pay to treat.

(For the record, the number of critical psych ward beds and staff at SF General has been cut repeatedly over the years during bad budget times, and has never been restored, even in good times, to the level that the city needs. There is no housing-based “treatment on demand” for people with alcohol or drug problems, and for the residential programs that exist, there is little in the way of a guarantee of affordable supportive housing when the treatment is over. These things cost money. Instead we give Twitter a tax break.)

Cooper told me that “our news reporting has been consistently awesome. Obits on the front page, for example. Much since the first Shame of the City. And I also wouldn’t discount things like the weekend pieces from the mayors. I think we are probably the only ones who could have convinced them to do that. It wasn’t easy!”

And indeed, there have been some excellent pieces in the Chron. Heather Knight’s article about discussing homelessness with children is a solid 5 on our scale. Her pieces on the myths of homelessness were really great (they also followed by several months our story with the same name). Many of the news pieces we read were pretty neutral. It’s important to put faces on the problem and in some cases, the Chron has done that, well.

Cooper has no control over the editorial page. Like most big dailies, the Chron keeps those roles distinct — the editorial page editor, John Diaz, reports directly to the publisher. His page is generally neo-liberal in its approach, and its one local columnist is Saunders, who is a Republican. Why the Chron has no liberal editorial page columnist is one of the great mysteries of the world.

But Nevius and Brown and Matier and Ross are news columnists, and all of them are pretty virulently anti-homeless and use pretty disgraceful language all the time. I asked Cooper why there was no progressive columnist to counter their bile:

I would love to get a more progressive voice in the paper. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do since I was named editor – I’ve had several conversations with progressives I respect to try to find some candidates. I agree it’s a missing piece.

I encourage those of you who might have another perspective on the local news to apply. Because it’s astounding that in San Francisco, the daily paper has nobody to challenge the strongly anti-homeless rhetoric of C.W. Nevius.

We took 10 Nevius columns over the last six months and did a special analysis of them. It’s pretty hard to read them all, one after the other – over and over again, he rails about tents, tent cities, people who live in tents, drugs, needles, violence, crime, alcoholism … Never does he talk to homeless people who have been evicted by landlords and have nowhere else to go. None of his columns reflect the perspective of many of the people who are living on the streets because it’s their only alternative.

By the numbers, he gets a 1.8. That’s because some of his columns address policy (which we can argue about, and that’s fine – but it’s different from dehumanizing homeless people.)

Nevius went to the same sidewalk camp we visited, where we found people with human stories who were trying to make a go of it in a community on the streets. Nevius found the one person who “just wanted to get high.”

The message: Homeless people deserve no sympathy; they’re just freeloading junkies who could have jobs and apartments if they wanted.

Here are some examples:

As the Division Street campground showed, an unsupervised tent city inevitably collapses on itself. It begins with urine, feces and needles on the street, and progresses to intimidation, lawlessness and violence.

And:

I’m baffled by our local homeless advocates. Their efforts would be understandable if they were trying to improve conditions at shelters or agitating for better health and counseling services. But what they’re striving for now would simply preserve disorder in the streets.

And:

A group of characters who look as if they walked off a “Mad Max” movie set pitched tents on the sidewalks and took over the neighborhood.

And:

We know that taking formal action — demanding that the squatters leave the area and enforcing the move — could easily result in the kind of unpleasant video of police rousting the homeless that could fuel a political confrontation. But it must be done. Otherwise, Mayor Ed Lee is ineffective, timid and clueless

You get the picture.

It’s one thing to say that you don’t think tents on the sidewalk are the answer to the crisis. It’s another to focus almost entirely on things that are guaranteed to make readers think the residents are scary, drug-addicted thugs who ought to be rousted to make way for civilized society.

Words matter. They create impressions. And the words in the Chron too often give the impression that homeless people are The Other, something to fear, a source of disgust. And I’m sorry, but that’s why these anti-homeless measures that will never work get traction over real solutions.

I have no problem with hard-hitting newspaper stories; nobody can accuse 48hills of playing softball with elected officials or powerful interests. I write headlines that I hope will get attention (and I wish I could be as good at it as the NY Post). But we go after the mayor, and the supes, and Ron Conway, and PG&E, and the billionaires. We are much kinder to the people who society has failed.

The Chron today offered some real solutions; that’s good, and what a newspaper should do when faced with a crisis. I give her immense credit to Cooper for trying to take this on.

When I told her I was looking at the Chron’s coverage, she told me she was hoping that this week we would get away from “the noise and vitriol.” I’m all in favor.

And the Chron is not alone; much of the news media coverage of homelessness has the same problem.

So we can all start by looking at how our columnists (and some stories, and some headlines) contribute – in a really dangerous way – to creating that vitriol.

Research assistance by Sofia Aguilar, Michael Redmond, Jamie Hughes, and James Holcombe

  • Earl Gilman

    The well dressed liberals on Montgomery Street who use cocaine are never mentioned. Drug addiction is a problem for rich as well as the poor.

    • AlbertoRogers

      Do they shit on the street?

    • scottthayersf

      I don’t care if someone wants to use cocaine said long as I can walk down the street without being harassed five times in one block by someone asking me for money to buy cocaine.

  • Tod1732

    Another media article that is about the media. More media navel-gazing.

    • chasmader

      It’s like on TV, when they say “Informed sources believe…..(fill in the blank)” when all they are really doing is repeating gossip overheard from other journos in some hotel bar.

  • ¤ C.W. Nevius used his column to rail against the HANC Recycling Center, where I used to be able to bring my own redeemables, as a supposed homeless magnet. His attacks hit a crescendo when a murder happened nearby, which he blamed on the homeless. Never mind that it turned out to be the outcome of a fight that started at a nearby sports bar, Nevius never apologized or corrected his narrative.

    The recycling center was closed, yet somehow homelessness persists. Boy howdy, who coulda seen that one coming? Certainly not Chuckles, he was on to bashing bicyclists.

    • Tod1732

      And now you can recycle via your own Wittle Wecycle box pickup at home.

      Chuck wrote about bicycling deaths today. No bashing there.

      • I always had the “Wittle Wecycle” option, but I want my nickel back. San Francisco is seriously out of compliance with state law on making this available.

        But that’s beside the point, isn’t it? The point is that Nevius used dishonesty and smearing to attack the homeless.

        • chasmader

          That bottle bill law came into force in the 1970’s and has long since outlasted its usefulness and should be sunsetted in cities which offer curbside recycling.

          • I’ve heard this narrative before, but the whole state doesn’t have comprehensive curbside recycling so the law is far from obsolete. There are plenty of other states who handle bottle bill laws just fine alongside curbside pickup.

          • curiousKulak

            I actually kinda miss my ‘local’ drop-off point (Safeway-Duboce). They have made it extremely difficult to cash out your cans, which is not in accord with the state or local intent. So ours pile up.

            Still, the campers continue to paw thru our trash, making the usual mess. However, the Safeway site does seem a bit cleaner though not by any means pristine.

          • scottthayersf

            At this point, the bottle bill is a de facto tax because it has become next to impossible to get your 30 cents back. Many states that have bottle deposits require the stores that sold the bottles to take them back.

    • sfjohn

      you forgot to mention Scottyboy Weiner also had a hand in this

      • Not the HANC Recycling Center (and not the demonization of the homeless). He and London Breed were both complicit in shutting down the Community Recyclers at the Upper Market Safeway, though, and Nevius cooked up some overheated prose about the homeless on that occasion, as well.

  • David Schneider

    Yes words and nuances do impact public policy, humanity and the general welfare.
    And it’s not a perfect world or perhaps the Bay Guardian wouldn’t have gone down with possible in-staff type A turf infighting and funding problems.
    Not all 1% ruling class pigs are without merit and not all homeless are saints.
    Still if you had to follow Yogi Berra and make the right-wrong mistake, 48 Hills mirroring the general press and homeless policies invites us all to be a little more human without being fools … .SFDave4U

  • AlbertoRogers

    the first time you step in fresh human excrement and almost break a rib dry heaving, you’ll change your opinion about a person’s “right” to live on the street.

    • MKR

      There are a lot of problems in the world that seem insurmountable but this doesn’t seem like one of them. If you don’t want people throwing trash in the streets put up trash cans. If you don’t want people using the sidewalk as a toilet put in public restrooms.
      Even a dummy like me can figure that one out.

      • AlbertoRogers

        the solution to homelessness is not bathrooms its homes. Lots of new homes. But 48 Hills and Tim,and Peskin and Campos and company don’t want new homes. Bad for their property values and their political ambitions.

        • MKR

          Perhaps the progressives may be somewhat unrealistic in some ways – and overly dramatic about a few unique situations. The evil landlord evicting the 99 year old lady might be doing her a favor. Do you really think someone like that should be living alone anyway? But one political minority is not singlehandedly responsible for a housing problem in SF, there are many factors converging simultaneously.

          Preserving the historic beauty and cultural charm of a city while accommodating an exploding population is not easily achieved. San Fran is not the only city in the world with this problem. And, yes, no one wants to tear down lovely old mansions to build horrid new highrises in their neighborhood. Can you blame them?

          Unlike the UK, in the US progress change don’t really happen with a majority. You need a super majority or else some compromise between political parties. That is true at the highest levels of government and also at the local levels. Political minorities have to at least acknowledge their own weaknesses and compromise a little bit or nothing is going to get better.

          • Brian T

            “no one wants to tear down lovely old mansions to build horrid new highrises in their neighborhood”

            Man it pisses me off when Tim and folks like you push this this story line because it’s utter BS. No one is tearing down lovely old mansions. NO ONE. This is not the choice. The choice is whether we’re going to let greedy capitalist developers build midrise buildings on parking lots, derelict buildings, old one story PDR buildings, etc. Or if we’re going to build next to nothing which is the agenda Tim has pushed for years. That’s the choice.

    • sfjohn

      poor little hothouse flower…..

      • AlbertoRogers

        Nobody should have to hose human shit off their childrens’ shoes. Nobody. Your acceptance of this situation is not progressive, its not liberal, its not humane. You have your safe rent controlled apartment and Tim Redmond has his nice million dollar home and you both jump up and down screaming NO NO NO to any new homes, safe in your little cocoons. Meanwhile the rest of us step over and occasionally into the consequences of your selfishness every day.

        • Ragazzu

          It would take a long, long time for new market-rate housing to trickle down to the point of eliminating homelessness. Redmond et al., who have long proposed government-subsidized housing for the poor, would solve it much sooner.

          In the mean time, genius, where can the homeless shit NOW?

  • AlbertoRogers

    You have to laugh at the hypocrisy!!! Willie Brown is wrong and insensitive for using the word “slum”….yet I bet if you Google Tim Redmond and “slumlord” you’ll get a lot of hits.

    • hiker_sf

      Yeah, you’re an idiot if you can figure out that denigrating where poor people are forced to live is different from a moneyed landlord refusing to make repairs that are often legally mandated, and creates a nuisance and/or safety hazards for tenants.

      • AlbertoRogers

        Soooooo Tim is allowed to call slums slums but Willie is not?

        • Ragazzu

          Are you trying to out-troll the wretched Spam-John? You’ve made enough comments for one article, sir.

      • curiousKulak

        We don’t hear the term “slums” or “slumlord” much these days (last time I recall was the dust up about the Lakers? owner and his racist comments being a ‘slumlord’). I thought when people were ‘forced’ to live somewhere, then that was a ghetto – not a slum. A slum to my understanding, is a place where people don’t care, and they don’t clean up, and they let things deteriorate. Yes, the prop owner has legal responsibilities, and the neglect is his choice. And municipalities have responsibility too – like used mattresses/ appliances etc. But residents can chose to clean up, or chose to let it go; its this later that I smell as a ‘slum’. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a ghetto,

        Anyway, encampments like Division St, 7th St, or 101/CChaves are places where disorder rules; people don’t (seem to) care, and its one big mess. = slum.

  • cosmicwonderful

    “nobody can accuse 48hills of playing softball with elected officials”

    Unless it’s Jane Kim, or David Campos, or Aaron Peskin…

    48Hills has an agenda, and that’s okay. There’s no need to pretend 48 Hills challenges all politicians equally, righteously speaking truth to power. 48Hills unabashedly supports certain policies and plays softball with the elected officials that support those policies.

    • sfjohn

      as does the Chronicle…..

  • MissionControl

    I don’t know what brand of rose-colored glasses you are wearing but I walk by several Mission area encampments nearly every day. Whether or not you are offended by the “words” of others, it’s difficult to access the stories of those those who have been marginalized when you are forced to step around sidewalk minefields of garbage and rotting food, used needles, pools of urine, piles of poop, pit bulls, stolen bikes and the “occasional” delirious person stumbling around that inevitably staggers right into you. It is what it is…

  • AlbertoRogers

    the cognitive dissonance displayed by 48 Hills is without par. You complain about homelessness incessantly and oppose new home construction invariably. Facepalm.

    • Foginacan

      They must have missed all the calls to build more public housing, and saving the SRO’s. Oh right, the condo SRO’s are going to save San Francisco.

  • Audrey Cooper

    Tim, I’m very disappointed that you still haven’t responded to my multiple e-mails asking for a correction. I have never once said the project was inspired by the incident you mention (which, incidentally, you ignore the actual point of the anecdote, which is that the people sent their dog after my 6-month-old baby). That incident happened nearly four years ago and had nothing to do with the inspiration for this project. The Chronicle’s coverage is fair game, of course, but you should be more responsive when you live in a glass house. I’d still appreciate the correction, and I would hope that you want this article of yours to be accurate. I’ve said many times what inspired this project. You can see that here or anywhere else that I have been quoted. Here’s just one of multiple examples. http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-abcarian-sf-homeless-20160701-snap-story.html

    • AlbertoRogers

      crickets chirping…….

      • Lolajrussell2

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    • Audrey, I’m terribly sorry I was out of town for a couple of days and had no email access, and for that I apologize. I have made the correction and linked to the Times story.

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  • Steven T. Jones

    Great analysis, Tim, and I appreciated you calling out the anti-progressive bias of the Chron and its news columnists. Audrey Cooper’s claim to want to address that just isn’t credible. When the Bay Guardian shut down, I approached Audrey and the Chronicle with a proposal to do a weekly progressive column for them and I was flatly rejected.

    • AlbertoRogers

      What are your qualifications to be a columnist in a major daily newspaper? Just curious.

    • curiousKulak

      I’ll agree.

      I think the Chron SHOULD put a column up, next to Debra Saunders (who I enjoy reading, for the most part – though see can go off the Hillary-deep_end occasionally).

      However, (and I suspect like Debra) they would have to be somewhat reasonable. And I think the role of Observer would clash with the Rabble-rousing ethic carried over from the BG

  • Foginacan

    Voicing the realities on the street, and our displeasure for the conditions is called being honest.

    Maybe if political correctness had not controlled the conversation in the 80’s, we could have came closer to solving it back then? Recognizing the problem, being honest that it’s not okay will lead to more humane, compassionate solutions. We didn’t need a coordinated media day to deal think about the homeless problem, it’s unavoidable, to the point where post-Super Bowl, it appears the increased amount of tent presences is politically manufactured. We have people who are in the professional “helping the homeless” business.

    People are disgusted, and upset, and who cares if it’s towards the down on their luck, or the politicians, as long as we as a City want it to stop, and don’t consider it tolerable, or normal. Isn’t that better than worrying about the tone of the discussion?

  • AhmadChalabisFoRealz

    Interesting…I wish Tim and his ilk at 48Hills would focus as much energy on the victims of crime as opposed to police violence and media analysis of homelessnesses. Guess it just isnt as interesting.

  • Cut the bloated homeless budget in half and release that money for affordable housing on PUBLIC land. Throwing more money at the problem isn’t working, and the sidewalk homeless encampments in Mid-Market are a nuisance that should NOT be tolerated. The worthless “homeless activists” encourage this ridiculous behavior. No wonder the Burger King on 8th/Mission resorted to basting classical music outside, in order to scare away the panhandlers and grifters having “sidewalk sales” right outside the MUNI/BART escalator entrance.

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  • GK

    If we surveyed 1000 homeless, we’d find out that the #1 cause of homelessness was drug/alcohol abuse, and the #2 cause was insanity. But according to you, we’re not supposed to even write news stories that tell people that truth. How will that ignorance help anyone in the long run? Everyone who lives near any big city knows that the bulk of the homeless are druggies, drunks, and loonies. None of these three groups are going to be helped by pretending they don’t exist, or they “just got evicted” or the “just can’t find a job”. If you give a loonie a job, he’ll still be loonie, and he won’t have the job long. Same for the druggie and the drunk. You’ve got to attack the real problems. The first tier is drugs, alcohol, and mental problems; the second is lack of education, lack of drive, and lack of functioning role models.

    The idea that homelessness is caused by a lack of housing is silly. There are 100s, maybe 1000s of empty homes in Detroit. The homeless we have here could easily live there. But they don’t want to. So it is not a question of a lack of homes. It’s a question of a lack of homes where the homeless would like to live.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure there are people who are homeless because the lost a job and/or got evicted. But they are far fewer than the druggies, the drunks, and those with serious mental problems. And especially fewer when it comes to long term homelessness. Someone who is homeless because they lost a job is eventually going to get another job, but someone who is so seriously alcoholic so as to be homeless, is likely to stay alcoholic, and therefore stay homeless.

    GK