The harsh comments by a few tech workers about homeless people have become famous, and I’m sure don’t represent the feelings of everyone in that industry. But there’s a growing sense in this city that it’s okay to treat poverty as something that’s best kept out of sight than as a social problem for all of us.
Take this bit of harshness by C.W. Nevius, for example. Nevius quotes Sup. Scott Wiener:
“The concerns about this site cut across all political views,” he said. “People saw this as a neighborhood quality-of-life issue. You hear these stories of being on the F-Market (trolley) and people come on with huge plastic bags of recycling. I think there was a huge, collective sigh of relief when (neighbors) heard it was closing.”
The Upper Market merchants feel the same way:
“I know that those merchants up on that end of Market will be happy,” said Aiello. “In the past they had complained that there was a highway of shopping carts headed up there.
Look: Nevius is correct that there are some large-scale operators who exploit homeless people and collect recyclables in big trucks. But they are not the people we’re talking about here; the big guys aren’t getting on Muni with plastic bags full of cans and bottles. They aren’t rolling shopping carts up Market Street.
Those people are the people San Francisco needs to notice every day – the poor people who are trying to make a few bucks doing something that’s a lot less problematic than, say, stealing cell phones. The people with their leaky, battered bags of recycling aren’t going to go away from San Francisco, and closing a recycling center isn’t going to get them out of poverty. What Nevius is celebrating is a move to get them out of the sight of the better-off people who live and have shops and ride the trains in ultra-gentrified Upper Market.
The Chron and Scott Wiener are not promoting alternative job programs that would pay homeless people cash, on the spot, for unskilled labor. All the job creation Ed Lee talks about isn’t doing the hard-core unemployed (or the seniors on fixed incomes who can’t pay the rent in SF without extra cash, and that’s who collects my cans and bottles). They are just pushing these people out of sight. And if there’s any lesson we’ve learned from the failures of homeless policy in this city, pushing people around from one place to another doesn’t work.
And that’s become so commonplace in San Francisco that Nevius can’t understand why anyone would be upset:
So, to review, a recycling center that was too large and messy for the neighborhood will close. Although individual recyclers will still be able to turn in bottles and cans for cash, it will make it difficult for the rip-off artists who are stealing recyclables and gaming the system.
Put that way, it seems like a reasonable and thoughtful response that preserves the good and discourages criminal elements. Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
No: It’s not a win-win for the poor people. It’s just another, all-too-common, loss of income and dignity.
(Oh, of course, Safeway can offer an alternative, like an automated can-and-bottle return machine. How long do you think the store will tolerate homeless people lining up inside to use it?
Not going to happen.)