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Wednesday, November 25, 2020
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News + Politics The sick politics of the Farrell-Wiener anti-homeless measures

The sick politics of the Farrell-Wiener anti-homeless measures

Once again, SF politicians demonize homeless people for their own gain

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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.

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 also makes little sense. 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.

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

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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  36. No, Jane Kim doesn’t work for 48Hills, 48Hills works for Jane, who also receives big bucks from PG&E. Wonder how that goes down with Tim Redmond?

  37. The car break-ins are very much a progressive issue. Not sure why Tim is so cavalier about them. Rich people don’t leave their Teslas parked on Larkin Street overnight. And if they do get broken into they probably have pretty good insurance.

    Meanwhile the working class person who needs a car but can’t afford a garage is in for significant costs and inconvenience when they get their window smashed in constantly.

  38. Didn’t I already vote for Matrix, Care not Cash and Sit/Lie? Didn’t they all pass?
    Why the F#ck can’t the city just enforce the laws on the books?
    NO ONE has a right to a shelter bed by the way.
    Many cities do not even allow homeless shelters, btw.

  39. 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.

  40. Jane Kim doesn’t work for 48Hills. You’re on a local news blog, not a campaign website.

  41. The headline is no better than the name calling and rhetoric we hear from Trump. This is how Kim plans to run her campaign. Shame on her

  42. As I understand it, the Prop A bill that passed in June is supposed to be used to retrofit the original General Hospital building to take care of the mentally ill, but, that may just be a rumor. It will take a while to do the seismic retrofitting. Not sure how well this issue will play with the other supervisors. It could backfire with the Western neighborhoods who are very concerned about the changes they see in the Eastern Neighborhoods coming into their neighborhoods.

  43. From what I can tell, living here well over a decade, the biggest problem that needs to be addressed is mental illness. If the City doesn’t address that head-on, they are just farting in the wind.

  44. I think this issue will prove difficult for Kim. The average voter is compassionate but at wits end over the bike chop shops that have bloomed on every corner. She needs to get out in front of this issue now – it could prove fatal – even with progressively inclined voters.

  45. “the root causes of car-breakins (too many cars)”

    Oh lordy, talk about pandering. And the root cause of home robberies (too many homes)? And the root cause of pick-pockets (too many pockets)?

    What about bike theft – Too many bikes or too many poles?

  46. Ok, I can see a possible motive for Weiner, in that he’s in a tight race with a candidate who sports more tent encampment than any other Supe. And do I think the measure is the right way to attack a problem that has a LOT of people concerned? Not really. But until progressives like Kim begin to deal with the root causes of car-breakins (too many cars), we will not see any change in the situation. (I wonder if all the tent encampments and car-breakins are possible done by a sizable subset of the same people?)

    But what motive does Farrell have? In fact, painting his measure as a burden is silly, it actually sounded to me – before I heard who the sponsor was – like another give-away to our tented brethren: a full 24 Hr notice plus shelter bed before clearance! Thats better than the current policy.

    Demonization is happening? Maybe a quick review of what is going to be on the ballot might be a better story instead.

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