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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, July 5-10: Did the Homeless Project work?

The Agenda, July 5-10: Did the Homeless Project work?

Can we please admit that the policies the Chron and the last few mayors have promoted are a failure, and try something different?

So we all wrote about homelessness last week, 48hills and most of the rest of the local news media, and the goal – as Chronicle Editor Audrey Cooper, who created the idea, made it clear – was to look not just as problems but solutions.

Cathy, who moved here to find a supportive community for a Trans woman, can't find housing. How is confiscating her tent going to help?
Cathy, who moved here to find a supportive community for a Trans woman, can’t find housing. How is confiscating her tent going to help?

The Chron did a classic “best practices” kind of story, looking at what works in other cities and what the experts say, and had some very solid suggestions about supportive housing. The paper also explained why police crackdowns don’t typically work.

We went a different route, and talked about why this problem exists in the first place and what steps policy makers could take right now to address it. We also talked about why Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell are not helping at all.

Then came the Sunday Chron, with a front-page editorial, which Editorial Page Editor John Diaz crowed about. It was called “A civic disgrace.” And it showed that Diaz either didn’t read his own paper’s stories or found them lacking, since his approach (and that means the “official” Chronicle line) undermined much of what Cooper and her staff spent five months trying to do.

The editorial starts out with the usual moaning – jeez, this is terrible, we can’t go on like this anymore, we have to make this a priority. Then it attacks existing programs, many of them very successful, and attacks existing nonprofits, calling them the Homeless Industrial Complex and saying that the city’s money “probably is not being spent with anything close to optimal effectiveness.” The solution: Close down or eliminate some of those programs, like they did in Houston.

Nothing in the Chron’s reporting suggested that there is any significant waste or misspending in homeless programs. I’m sure if we looked hard enough, we could find some – there is no way to spend $241 million in public money without some failures. There’s also no private-sector operating that spends $241 million without some waste and mismanagement.

The editorial does say – and I think everyone in the system agrees – that we need a better tracking system to make sure people get the right services. SF, in the tech capital of the world, is way behind in this. But I’m sure the minute the city creates a contract for that work, Matier and Ross will say it costs too much money.

The Chron stories pointed out, and the editorial acknowledges, that some of the most difficult cases cost the city the most money in treatment. “Some 1,500 chronically homeless people cost the city about $80,000 a year each.” Yes, John: And wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would happen if we gave those people enough money to rent a place in the city (less than $80,000 a year)? We used to do that; public assistance was enough to pay rent in San Francisco in the early 1980s, and there was less homelessness. Then, often with the support of the Chronicle, the city, state, and federal governments cut welfare and SSI – to save the taxpayers money.

There is no accountability for homeless programs, Diaz says. There is also no accountability for the Chronicle’s role in promoting politicians and policies that have created this problem and allowed it to get worse.

And then this:

It is neither inhumane nor “criminalizing poverty” to enforce laws against aggressive panhandling, tent encampments, or defecation and urination in public places.”

Actually, it’s both – and the Chron reporters showed this week that the law-enforcement approach just doesn’t work. Maybe Diaz didn’t read that story.

Come on, people: The first step in solving this crisis is admitting that the policies that we’ve used in the past, promoted by the Chron and the politicians it endorses, haven’t worked. But instead, we remain a progressive city with a major daily newspaper that takes editorial stands based on the old neo-liberal philosophy that has created the greatest economic inequality in modern history.

That, folks, is a civic disgrace.


Not a lot going on at City Hall this week. The July 4 holiday means there is no Board of Supes meeting, few committee meetings, not much on the agenda of other commissions and agencies. Next week the final budget discussions will start, and as we head into the end of July, the supes will have to decide what final measures to put on the ballot.

Meanwhile, we listen to the sound of fireworks we can barely see (why does San Francisco even bother?) and celebrate the founding of a nation that has gone way, way off track.

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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  1. “Some homeless people may be hopelessly degenerate and dysfunctional and
    may never be able to work and live productively in a society like ours.”
    What an awful world view.

  2. Sorry but after living here for 30 years, I don’t think a week of newspaper articles is going to “solve” anything. What’s definitely not solving anything is when publications (including this one) attack civic leaders and use a week of awareness to levy criticisms rather than educate.

  3. I don’t think we’ve tried the “I don’t wanna see you here by sunset” approach in 40+ yrs.

    Instead, we’ve almost put out a WELCOME MAT for those with no ability to be self sufficient (the self sufficient ones realize its too expensive and go to other bay area locales).

    If we are to try your approach (seeing some as more worthy than others), then I would agree that someone who is born/raised in SF has a higher priority than someone that drifts in, homeless, from somewhere else – like 30% of the homeless respondents admit. That lowers out numbers substantially; then we can better focus on Veterans who are raised here.

  4. Somewhere in the middle of Kathy Wolfe’s heartfelt plea and Pluto’s cynicism you can probably find more reality. Some homeless people may be hopelessly degenerate and dysfunctional and may never be able to work and live productively in a society like ours. Some others may have simply seen their lives spiral out of control for any one of many reasons and might be able to get back on track with the right social help.
    Different people have different tolerances for life’s stresses. Some people could suffer the loss of a job, loss of a spouse/partner/family member, eviction, or a health problem and shrug their shoulders and move on. Someone else can end up completely shell shocked at a stress like this and be paralyzed with a mental disorder as a result.
    If the present situation isn’t working why don’t they hire a new director of homeless projects and spend the money in more productive ways. Criticizing and blaming everyone else isn’t solving any problems.

  5. How about “unconditional love” being shown to the taxpayers who fund this charitable work and then get repaid by these homeless assholes committing crime in their neighborhood?

  6. The damn media hasn’t solved homelessness in a week!!!!!! What a failure!!!!!

  7. Unfortunately, our society believes some poor are more deserving than others– you recognize that in your post by citing to veterans, children, etc.

    Our society doesn’t value affordable housing. Our society also lacks empathy. The only appeal that is likely to get through the noise is one for fairness– as in, why is it fair that someone who moved to SF in 1972 more worthy to stay in the city than someone who moved here in 2012?

    We need more housing, and less hand wringing about the rationing of said housing.

  8. “Let’s try tough love” “Cut the aid and start zero tolerance policing” I am appalled at this continual type of attitude!!!

    Without UNCONDITIONAL LOVE being shown to them, and the one most vital items needed AFFORDABLE HOUSING FIRST, they, we are not able to start healing, nor to be a PRODUCTIVE MEMBER of SOCIETY.

    Instead with attitudes like yours, of politicians or others who stigmatize, create or insist laws have to be passed/followed that penalizes being homeless and even NOT IN MY BACKYARD, these type of attitudes and actions are what makes their hopeless and forces HOMELESS people to endure more trauma.

    Are you going to tell this to any of the following groups of people who have connections to San Francisco and HAVE NEVER had a drug or alcohol addiction: THERE ARE MANY SUCH TYPE of people who fall on hard times, make mistakes or trauma happens. (The following examples are from I and my families’ experiences and what we have seen and observed. I for one is in a much better place because ofUNCONDITIONAL LOVE and resources and HOUSING. I give back to my community everyday, so what are you doing to give back to the community?)

    a VETERAN returning to the city he was born and raised in, after serving for over 10 years in the military in places like Iraqi, trys to do the honorable thing by working and/or getting an education without using any of the homeless aid/resources and finally is forced to. Oh he is also a person of color.

    or how about a family where it has been a struggle, yet for them who are willing and want to work, they can’t because of deteriating health,

    how about that youth who has gone through the foster care system, wants a college education and to be able to work, yet struggles internally because of what they saw or experienced in the foster care system

    SO LET EACH OF US BE SENSITIVE, KIND, NUTURING and HELPFUL not only to ourselves, but especially to those who are either homeless or close to being homeless. EVERYONE DESERVES a chance,sometimes a second or third chance to at a better life.

  9. I’d argue what hasn’t worked for the homeless is throwing billions of dollars at them and then acting shocked when they don’t leave and, moreover, more arrive every day for their bite at the cherry.

    Something different? Let’s try tough love. Cut the aid and start zero tolerance policing. Make another city more attractive to them.

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