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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

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UncategorizedSan Francisco’s War on Poor People

San Francisco’s War on Poor People

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.)

Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.
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  1. I think it was a mistake to ever call it the “War” on Poverty. War is just a bad word. Think of the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. When you say you are at war with something that is very hard to beat (especially in our political system) you make it too easy for the other side to say you “lost.”

  2. I live across the street from a recycling center that was closed down. The streets were cleaner, quieter and the riff was almost invisible. The center closed and a bar called the Wreck Room moved next store. Who is pissing, puking and leaving their empties on the street. Drunken Bro’s frequenting these bars. There has been puke on my street or on my doorstep every Sunday morning since football started. Seriously, how hard is it to puke on the curb instead of on someone’s door step, wall, driveway etc. Lets not forget Zeke’s and the party buses. Pretty disgusting when that behavior is tolerated and people trying to recycle get the hassle.

  3. I appreciate the historical perspective, comparing poverty rates under different federal administrations. That is certainly informative about the failure of the Republican agenda in meeting the needs of our poor.

    I also appreciated the larger perspective presented around a few mean spirited comments by tech workers – revealing that such comments are the exception and do not represent mainstream views.

    I also agree that the closing of this recycling center will only hurt the very poor – people who are not going to go away because they are made even more poor by being deprived of what little income they could earn from recycling.

    David Elliott Lewis, a San Francisco resident for three decades.

  4. You don’t allow the comments to get posted without moderation because people are not angels and if you give some people an inch they take a mile.

    The war on poverty is the same thing times ten. Give people a hand and they bite off your arm.

  5. Do you have a theory about why the war on poverty created such a backlash?

    I remember that the war on poverty was a time when my (black) grandfather began carrying a gun when he left the house.

    The crime rate exploded during that time, when third generation single underage psychotic welfare mothers unable to stop having children with illiterate, third generation imprisoned underage psychotic fathers turned urban schools into apocalyptic hell zones that white families were forced to either bus their children on hours long bus rides or else flee.

    It was a nightmare. Still is.

  6. During the years of the war on poverty the crime rate exploded, the opposite of what you would expect.

    Busing caused an incredible backlash as a white elite who sent their children to private schools forced middle class white parents to send their children to school with violent psychopaths raised by third generation welfare underage mothers. That is not an exaggeration. It is what happened.

    The war on poverty had a dark side you are free to ignore as you wish.

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