Words can have consequences. Ugly words can have ugly consequences.
By John Elberling
AUGUST 31, 2015 — “Thoughtful, compassionate people have had it,” you declare in your latest Chronicle column broadside this last Thursday against the city’s “pee and poop” problems. Which you then immediately conflate with the city’s “out of control” homelessness reality.
It’s refreshing to see you have finally stopped beating around the bush and now are outright channeling Donald Trump: Why don’t “they” just go someplace else, like back to where they came from? The homeless, the “druggies, dunks, and the mentally ill,’” whoever offends us on the sidewalks or impinges on our quality of life.
I suppose this is a sign of the times, a new era of American Intolerance. Even in San Francisco, and even in the midst, by the way, of our greatest local prosperity ever. How ironic, or perhaps, how telling.
But, before we set up “camps” for the nation’s several hundred thousand long-term homeless in the Nevada desert, the only actual “someplace else” there could ever be that didn’t just shuttle the homeless from one city to another and back, why don’t we stop bullshitting and just get serious about cleaning up our San Francisco streets and neighborhoods everyday?
The prototype converted bus Lave Mae mobile bathroom/shower that rotates among Central City locations four days a week now is a great success for everyone, both the homeless and the neighborhoods. So why hasn’t the city ordered a fleet of at least two dozen more to cover the entire city? Sure, they will cost $10 million a year to operate. So?
The city’s parks have public restrooms too, but many are an awful mess because no staff are permanently assigned to most parks to keep them clean and safe, unlike the public restrooms in Yerba Buena Gardens for example. Sure that will cost $10 million a year or more too. So?
And several Central City neighborhoods have set up their own Community Benefit Districts whose taxpayers fund Clean Teams to safely take care of sidewalk messes and debris left by the homeless and nightclub patrons every morning, and Ambassadors to respond to calls for help from local residents, businesses, and property owners to deal professionally with campers, panhandlers, passed out people, and the deranged. But sure, this costs them millions of dollars every year too.
But no, you disdain, “This drumbeat call for money is getting old.” ”Enough carrot, there has to be a stick.”
But exactly what that no-cost “stick” for application to the homeless will be you leave completely unexplained. That aphorism unmistakably refers in its origin to some kind of physical punishment. So: SFPD sweeps brandishing nightsticks or Tasers to clear the Embarcadero for the Super Bowl media party there? Or confiscating homeless people’s shopping carts with their tattered few worldly goods? Or seizing their pet dogs and kittens for consignment to the city pound? Let’s break their will, even their hearts!
Is this code language for a new physical repression of the homeless in San Francisco, C.W.?
Or what? You actually never say. Because, I expect, in fact you have no answer, no idea at all, save one: Run Them Outta Town. No?
Bottom line: mass homeless is our permanent American reality for the 21st Century. Face it, C.W., that will be the fact of life here in San Francisco, and everywhere. For us, for our children, for our grandchildren, and for generations beyond.
We have no national mental health system to fund the expensive group homes that would actually move the severally mentally ill off our nation’s streets into decent places to live. Instead we build atomic aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines. And grant hundreds of billions in corporate welfare to powerful special corporate interests every year.
We criminalize drugs and leave the addicted no choice but petty theft, like the city’s ubiquitous auto break-ins, to pay high black market dope prices that then enrich the drug cartels and ultimately destabilize entire nations, like Mexico and Bolivia. How brilliant! Then we build more prisons that house and train those users to be better crooks at the cost of additional billions.
No, we all know San Francisco cannot solve these national failures. But we can at least clean up the “pee and poop” on our sidewalks here everyday, and offer our homeless – they are Americans and our neighbors too – the basic human dignity of real bathrooms to use. Is that too much to ask?
Yes that will cost San Francisco significant money – Tens of Millions a Year – from one of the richest cities in the world that right now is benefitting (some of us at least) from an unprecedented 21st Century Tech Gold Rush.
Deal with it, C.W. Stop whining. Stop blaming. Just do it.
John Elberling is president of TODCO Group