Monday, April 19, 2021
News + Politics The sick politics behind the Farrell and Wiener anti-homeless...

The sick politics behind the Farrell and Wiener anti-homeless measures

Once again, SF politicians are trying to demonize homeless people for their own advantage

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The key to understanding the two homeless and street crime ballot measures sponsored at the last minute by Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener is that neither of them has anything to do with homelessness or quality of life crimes.

The Farrell measure would allow the police to clean out a homeless camp – taking away everyone’s tents and possessions – as long as the campers get 24 hours’ notice and are offered a shelter bed.

Arresting homeless people and tearing down their tents makes no policy sense; it's a political game
Arresting homeless people and tearing down their tents makes no policy sense; it’s a political game

The Wiener measure would mandate that the Police Department create a new force of at least 60 officers to address car break-ins, vandalism, and homeless encampments – the “quality of life” crimes that tend to lead to the criminalization of the poor.

Neither measure would do anything that the city can’t already do. It’s already against the law to camp on the sidewalk. It’s already against the law to break into cars or spray paint tags on buildings.

It’s long been the policy of the city that the police first go after serious crimes – murder, rape, assault, arson, robbery, gun violence hate crimes – and that car break-ins, which are almost impossible to solve, aren’t at the top of the list.

That, of course, is logical.

Homeless camps are the target of a cynical political play
Homeless camps are the target of a cynical political play

The cops and the Department of Public Works already tear down homeless encampments. And there simply aren’t enough beds in the shelters to offer to the displaced people.

From the Coalition on Homelessness:

San Francisco has 23 anti-homeless laws on its books, more than any California city. This includes a camping ban that already prohibits the exact same behavior.

Let’s look at the numbers:

As of June 22nd, there are 869 people on the 311 shelter waiting list, for an average of five weeks. Currently, an officer can offer a bed for only one-night, taking a bed from someone who would have been waiting in line for hours. This means any shelter offered will put another person on the street. This practice prioritizes complaint driven placements over those who have been waiting or in medical need. Thus, this legislation merely perpetuates the sidewalk shuffle.

So it makes no sense. Why is it on the ballot?

Like the many anti-homeless laws passed before, this law is about political gain masquerading as legislative action by taking advantage of wide spread frustration with homelessness in the city.

As for the Wiener law? It makes no sense either. From COH:

This measure set asides police for property crime, and then bizarrely includes homeless encampments as part of that, making these two items the city’s top policing priority, as the only ballot mandated set aside within the police department. “This effectively locks in a citywide commitment to addressing homelessness through policing rather than through housing and services,” said Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness. “We know that criminalizing people for being poor isn’t working, and we know that housing people does work. In the wake of multiple police murders of homeless individuals, this ordinance is particularly cynical.”

Wiener and Farrell are not fools. They are smart legislators who understand policy, budgets, priorities, and all of the things that would make anyone with any sense say these laws are ridiculous.

But this is an election year, and the progressives and the conservatives are bitterly at odds; Wiener is behind in a state Senate race that he thought he’d be leading by 10 points.

So Wiener and Farrell are looking for wedge issues, things that they can use against the progressives. It’s an old tradition among San Francisco candidates who want to cynically use problems like homelessness to advance their careers: Gavin Newsom was elected mayor to a significant extent by running a side campaign called “Care Not Cash,” designed to take money away from homeless people. (And now, in a few years, he may be governor of California.)

Wiener is planning to start attacking Jane Kim as soon as he can, as fast as he can, with every issue that he can. And he’s already started on homelessness: His campaign sent a mailer out before the June election, in Chinese, suggesting that Kim wanted to allow homeless people to camp in front of homes in the Sunset.

There aren’t a lot of homeless camps in the Sunset. Most of them are in Soma or the Mission. Most homeless people try to stay away from residential doorways; the camps tend to be in commercial and industrial areas, where the people who are living on the street (in many cases because they have been evicted or lost their housing) don’t get rousted by the cops.

But never mind: Demonizing the homeless worked for Newsom. Making the cops arrest people for minor crimes while homicides remain unsolved may play well in some neighborhoods.

But this whole thing right now reeks of desperation.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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  28. I really don’t give a shit. Sounds like you have a lot of energy to be moralistic about the same things people have been arguing endlessly about since 1985. G4U but i’m not up for it. Good luck.

  29. Oh I see what you’re saying. Well welcome to SF – we are sick and tired of it here. If you aren’t, you are the better woman but I sure as hell am done with it.

  30. Fortunately, they have better sense than to do that. I realize it greatly distresses you that the homeless are not being mistreated, but you can take comfort in the fact that they are not going to receive huge payouts (which has happened in quite a few locations) because the City broke the law.

  31. Do you think San Francisco is the ONLY city with homeless? It isn’t remotely. And since you want to punish people for a status you find distasteful….I would say the term fits.

  32. if they push sit/lie, it will be tossed by the courts. The same is probably true for panhandling laws which have been overturned when they encroach on free speech. Obviously, truly aggressive panhandling was already before Newsom put it on the ballot as a wedge issue

  33. Just enforce sit/lie and panhandling laws. Or your can figure out a way to pay for every person who shows up in SF and says they are homeless, because I sure as hell am not.

  34. Well, you seemed to miss the part where I said “legal.” What you suggest would end in lawsuits, and the homeless having enough money to buy houses in San Francisco. Vagrancy laws have been tossed by courts. They are not remotely legal. But hey, thanks for playing…

  35. Cut the homeless services budget and double or triple the number of cops on the force. Then enforce all anti-vagrancy laws that are on the books like crazy, until they get the message and go to Oakland.

  36. So, what do you suggest. Housing is the ONLY legal solution. And I doubt you could be paid to accept the housing offered.

  37. The Chron’s claim is bogus. That housing is pretty bad, and in most cases it require 8 hours a week of hard labor. More than half of those “housed” were shipped out on Greyhound. And I find it funny how they offer no figures on how many are no longer housed.

  38. Actually, I did just that. You haven’t. There are not enough shelter beds available. There are three ways to get one. The waiting list for a 90 day bed. Be receiving CAAP, which gives a bed as long as one is getting money, or a one-night emergency bed. So, which will the tent dwellers get? If it is a one-night bed, they will be back on the street the next day. And, they will be displacing someone else. While I would love to see property crime dealt with, the police are already, largely ignoring murders.

  39. I guess you couldn’t be bothered to read and comprehend the proposal. The measure requires the campers be offered a shelter bed before they are cleared.

    And no. Of course I don’t think dealing with property crime is more important than murders. I proposed that we do something about property crime which currently is ignored by the police.

  40. Weiner is not remotely a liberal. He is, at best, a moderate Republican. If you can’t use the streets and parks because you don’t want to be around the homeless, you should be aware that you sound like a Sixties southern racist who did not want to be around blacks. And do you really think any of that $80,000 (based on a very low estimate of the number of homeless) actually reached anyone in need>

  41. When there are no available shelter beds, and the only way to clear out a tent is put someone else out of the street, the law is idiocy.

    So you think property crime is more important than solving murders?

  42. W & F are simply following in the footsteps of Eugene “Bull” Connor, and pandering to bigots.

  43. I wonder how many upstanding citizens, that you would applaud, are buying those stolen bikes. Farrell’s initiative is worthless. It is self-defeating, and is only intended to pander to bigots. And Weiner wants to have the police chasing taggers and petty thief, but murders already go unsolved. I have had my car broken into twice this year, but I would still rather see murders be a priority.

  44. Only in SF would Scott Wiener be considered “conservative”. Anyplace else, he’s “liberal” and people like Avalos and Campos are off the charts nuts (probably why they moved here–their policies wouldn’t fly anywhere else). I have mixed feelings about voting for him for state office because it will be a shame to lose him locally–he’s one of the few people on the BOS with some common sense.

    Those of us who are working REALLY hard to stay in SF and have been here longer than most of the political carpetbaggers would like to be able to use our streets and parks again.

    We’ve tried the progressive approach–spending $80,000 per homeless person (more than a lot of people in SF make, believe it or not)–and it hasn’t worked, yet the progressive answer is to ask for a sales tax hike to create a new bureaucracy so we can spend even more?!?

  45. […] Rather, it will be the same media-makers, who as my mama Dee used to say “have never missed a meal,” have never struggled with the terrifying loss of self, belongings and home, who can report calmly and “objectively” on real estate investor Sup. Mark Farrell and poor-people-hater Scott Weiner’s attempt to put yet another law in place to criminalize us of the sole act of being homeless. […]

  46. I feel like people have gone crazy when their proposed solution to the homeless problem is to house them. So I can become homeless and the city of SF will house me? Why wouldn’t everyone just become homeless? Why wouldn’t everyone just move to SF to get free housing? Do people like paying $2000 for bedroom in a shared flat? It’s a stupid plan. It’s bad policy.

  47. I’m confused. The Chron writes this morning that 22,000 homeless people have been housed since ‘Care Not Cash.’
    This clearly implies that homeless people are coming to SF because the word on the street is: Homeless services are better here than in other cities.

  48. Wiener and Farrell are spot-on – the public isn’t upset because Joe Homeless doesn’t have a place to live – they are upset because they have to look at them and deal with their b.s. This may not be a noble feeling, but it’s the truth. W & F are political winners, in this instance.

  49. Once again Mr. Redmond and likeminded ideologues are demonizing the only politicians willing to actually stick their necks out to propose even the most modest and sensible approaches to dealing with the chronic homelessness challenge in San Francisco.

  50. Great dialog Tim. Why did you delete everyone’s comments? Reposting.
    Two thoughts:
    –Giving homeless camps 24 hour notice and the right to a shelter bed before being cleared is actually a lot better then what they get now which is nothing. It’s probably intended to head off Avalos’s proposal that would give 15 days notice.
    –While I think setting aside 60 cops for anything is bad policy, something needs to be done about property crime. Unless you have an alternate proposal, I guess something is better than nothing. On my walk to work, I routinely see entire blocks where every car has had a window broken overnight. I really feel for the working class folks who can’t afford a garage and have to deal with these criminal thieves. And yes, there is a connection between property crime and homeless encampments. I have seen the bicycle chop shops with dozens of bikes at division and at 101/Chavez.

  51. the city has had enough. Enforce our laws and make new ones if you have to. That is the sentiment now.

  52. The homeless do not need any demonization from anyone. They are sufficiently dirty and violent on their own to do just that. Just yesterday we had three ambulances at 16th and Sanchez – a block from my house, with my kids – where the homeless scum that hangs out there decided to get into a knife fight and almost killed each other. Blocking sidewalks with stolen bikes wasn’t enough. We are fed up. We have laws on the book that we do not enforce. I applaud Wiener and Farrell for their initiative.

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