12Oct12 Homelessness is San Francisco’s most visible problem

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Oct 16 02:02:06 BST 2012

1. 171,000 UK single parents could lose their homes

2. On the streets of San Fran - Inside Housing - 12Oct12

Crumb (left) and Purple who describe themselves as travelling street kids
Homelessness is San Francisco’s most visible 
problem. Lydia Stockdale visits the Californian 
city to find out why its famously liberal 
residents have decided to get tough to solve it
A queue of tourists stands waiting for one of San 
Francisco’s world-famous cable car trams to take 
them away from downtown and up and over the city’s rolling hills.
None of the sightseers pays any attention when a 
man stops in front of a nearby bin, sticks his 
head inside and has a good rummage around. This 
is the third indistinguishable person, grimy from 
head to toe, to have rifled through this trash 
can and even the kids in the line have stopped pointing.
Inside Housing is here in San Francisco, the 
foggy home of the Summer of Love, where in 1967 
hippies gathered in the hope of throwing off 
conservative values, to embrace a new, more 
liberated way of life. It’s a beautiful, densely 
populated city that people across the globe dream 
of visiting. But it has one problem that it just can’t hide: homelessness.
There are those whose eyes are vacant, who appear 
to have checked out a long time ago; some who 
babble incoherently pulling at their own hair or 
bashing their fists together; and then there are 
the individuals known locally as ‘panhandlers’, 
who target tourist areas and beg for money.
‘I’m 70 and I’m freezing,’ pleads a man who looks 
at least 100, feebly holding out a polystyrene 
cup in front of passing shoppers.

A massive problem
On the last count, which took place on 27 January 
2011, there are 6,445 homeless people living in 
San Francisco, 3,106 of whom are classed as 
‘unsheltered’, meaning they’re living either on 
the streets, in vehicles or make-shift shelters. 
By way of comparison, in London - a much larger 
city both in terms of size and population - 
homeless charity Broadway counted 5,678 rough 
sleepers throughout the whole of 2011/12. This 
works out to be around 500 on any one night.
San Francisco traditionally spends around $200 
million a year trying to get homeless people off 
the streets and into shelters, housing and 
counselling. In fact, between 2003 and 2011, it 
has built 2,146 units of accommodation taking the 
total number of beds available from 1,595 to 
3,741 and 660 more are planned for 2013. However, 
homelessness still blights this place. Now the 
city famed for its liberal values has turned to more hard-line measures.
Like the children in the queue, these 
Californians are no longer shocked at what they 
see, they just want the problem to go away, and 
they’re willing to try tactics that might previously have been unthinkable.

Zero tolerance
In November 2010 a small majority - 54 per cent - 
of the 284,625 residents who voted in a local 
referendum opted for a sit/lie ordinance to be 
introduced, making it illegal for people to sit or lie on the city’s sidewalks.
This way of effectively criminalising homeless 
people - at least during the hours of 7am to 11pm 
when they are most visible to the public - is not 
new to the United States. Approaches vary 
massively from state to state, but similar 
ordinances have already been tried in approximately 77 towns and cities.
But if even the traditionally tolerant San 
Franciscans have given up hope that more 
supportive ways of addressing homelessness will 
work, what does this mean for homeless people 
elsewhere, including here in the UK?
Last year in London, rough sleeping rose by 43 
per cent. In response we’ve already heard some 
local authorities calling for a zero-tolerance 
approach to be adopted. Westminster Council, for 
example, has already announced that ‘begging will 
not be tolerated’ within its boundaries.
‘Attitudes have shifted in the UK concerning how 
tolerant we can, or should, be about people 
sleeping rough on the streets,’ sums up Jeremy 
Swain, chief executive of charity Thames Reach. 
‘In situations where people sleeping rough are 
given numerous offers of accommodation and other 
support, but refuse to move off of the street, 
then an enforcement approach, even the use of the 
[UK] Vagrancy Act in some circumstances, may be 
appropriate or necessary as this often leads to 
the person accepting an accommodation option.
‘I don’t think we can continue to accept a 
situation where people stay on the streets for 
months and years, putting their health at risk 
and sometimes creating problems for local communities,’ he adds.

Community concerns
In San Francisco, the introduction of sit/lie 
laws came mainly as a result of calls for action 
by members of the community, including shop 
owners, in the Haight-Ashbury area. They felt 
that ‘gutter punks’, groups of homeless young 
people with dogs, were intimidating visitors, and this was affecting business.
This spring, however - more than a year after 
police began to enforce the sit/lie law - 
graduates involved in San Francisco’s City Hall 
fellows programme surveyed 50 business owners in 
Haight-Ashbury and found 60 per cent felt the 
legislation had not helped to reduce the number 
of homeless people loitering in front of their premises.
Dennis Culhane, a professor of social policy at 
the University of Pennsylvania and an advisor to 
the White House on homelessness, is not 
surprised. ‘I suspect that when people pass these 
ordinances it’s usually for scoring local 
political points, but the police do not want to 
spend all of their time going around moving 
homeless people along and having to arrest them, 
book them, charge them and process them through 
the courts and the jails - it’s simply not a 
sustainable kind of tactic,’ he says.
To really tackle homelessness, San Francisco, he 
argues, needs to broaden its horizons. ‘The 
[supportive housing] programmes there have been 
very successful, but it’s clear that it hasn’t 
gone to scale far enough,’ states Mr Culhane.
Amanda Kahn Fried, is deputy director for policy, 
housing opportunity, partnerships and engagement, 
in the San Francisco mayor’s office. She works 
for mayor Ed Lee, the successor to Gavin Newsom, 
who was the real political force behind the introduction of sit/lie.
‘Homelessness in San Francisco is often very 
polarising,’ she says. ‘Mayor Newsom did a lot - 
he was really focused on the issue, but almost 
always his policies were really met with a lot of 
opposition. I think that in this term with mayor 
Lee, we have the situation where there’s a lot of 
willingness from all sides to work together.’

Finding the cause
To find a solution, though, it’s necessary to 
understand the root cause of San Francisco’s 
homelessness problem, and even that is difficult.
‘People always talk about our climate having 
something to do with it. It’s not always warm and 
sunny, but it’s predictably fine,’ begins Ms Kahn 
Fried. ‘And then we do have a number of really 
excellent services. If I were homeless somewhere 
else in the region it may make sense to come to 
San Francisco - but that’s obviously not the full 
picture. It’s very expensive to live here and 
it’s hard to make it on a [government] subsidy alone,’ she continues.
Rents here are the highest in the entire US, 
according to a report released in March by the 
National Low Income Housing Coalition. A 
two-bedroom property costs $1,905 (£1,179) on average per month.
‘You’ll see people panhandling [begging] here, 
particularly downtown. A lot of them aren’t 
actually homeless, many of them are housed, but 
are living on a very low, fixed income. They may 
be on social security getting around $875 [£541] 
a month, and they would have to pay 30 per cent 
[around £162] on their housing. That doesn’t 
leave very much to get by on [around £379],’ explains Ms Kahn Fried.
‘Around 20 per cent of our street homeless are US 
veterans and the city is working with the federal 
[national] government’s Veterans Administration 
and with the Department of Housing and Urban 
Development, to develop supportive housing specifically for veterans.
‘There’s been a big federal push to end veteran 
homelessness and in San Francisco we’re working 
very hard to see that come to fruition,’ she adds.
According to the Coalition on Homelessness, a 
homeless advocacy and social justice organisation 
in San Francisco, around 30 per cent of those 
living on the streets have mental health problems 
- that’s if you include those with addiction problems.
Each ‘chronic inebriate’ costs the city $60,000 
(£37,509) a year when their use of emergency 
medical services, encounters with the police and 
time in jail and detox centres are taken into 
consideration, explains Ms Kahn Fried.
‘We’re working now to institute “wet housing”,’ 
she says. ‘We find that chronic alcoholics are 
very social - they have a community on the street 
- so we’re looking to have a specified housing 
development for this population.’
The mayor’s office wants to replicate this type 
of scheme which is already working further up the 
west coast of America in Seattle, at a project called 1811 Eastlake.
‘Everyone wanted to move inside as they could go 
in with their friends and be treated with dignity 
- it’s reduced drinking by 40 per cent,’ says Ms Kahn Fried.
But White House advisor Mr Culhane warns against 
getting too carried away. ‘You can’t address 
homelessness on a demonstration project basis,’ 
he says. ‘Little initiatives always show that it 
can be done - but you have to take it to scale.’
Unless politicians and residents can actually see 
a difference, they’re not going to support 
funding for programmes, he states. ‘You’ve got to 
do it on a large enough basis so that people can actually see a difference.’

Insufficient resources
Bob Offer-Westort, civil rights organiser at The 
Coalition on Homelessness, says his 
organisation’s ‘fundamental viewpoint is that the 
number one thing that needs to be done to solve 
homelessness is increase access to affordable housing’.
The bad news, unfortunately, is that the waiting 
list for affordable housing in San Francisco has 
26,000 people on it and has been closed since 
2009. The city’s scope for solving its homelessness crisis alone seems limited.
‘Local politicians can’t solve homelessness - 
they don’t have the resources to do it, so more 
cynical local politicians frequently advocate 
criminalisation measures. We’re constantly trying 
to fight against those and shift the discourse 
from criminalisation to housing access,’ sums up Mr Offer-Westort.
Mr Culhane believes there needs to be a federal, 
US-wide, rethink about how to finance a ‘more 
complete solution to homelessness’.
He believes that the current administration’s 
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 
commonly known as ‘Obamacare’, which was signed 
into law by president Barack Obama in March 2010, could help with this.
Under the law, which is still working its way 
through various complicated constitutional 
processes, ‘every homeless person will be 
eligible for Medicaid [healthcare insurance]’, 
explains Mr Culhane. This means it could be used 
to fund housing and support services.
During the first televised presidential election 
debate, which took place last week, Republican 
candidate Mitt Romney said he would axe Obamacare if he wins office.
‘I personally do not believe that if Romney did 
win [the presidential election on 6 November] he 
will be able to repeal the act,’ responds Mr 
Culhane. ‘I think the Democrats will hold on to 
the senate [the upper house of the US Congress].’
Maybe San Franciscans can still be convinced that 
the city’s homeless people are not a lost cause. 
Ms Khan Fried, for one, is optimistic. ‘The 
political climate locally is really different now 
and it opens up a lot of possibilities that may 
have been more difficult in the past. The 
direction and support from the federal government 
continues to amaze us, so we’re really hopeful 
that we’re going to make some significant progress in the next few years.’

Love and Haight
It’s 11.00am on a Tuesday in Haight-Ashbury, the 
area of San Francisco made famous by the Summer 
of Love, psychedelic rock and the Grateful Dead. 
A steady stream of around 15 sleepy, 
grubby-looking young people, most of them 
carrying rucksacks and sleeping bags, make their 
way up Haight Street in search of breakfast.
They’ve slept beneath the stars in Golden Gate 
Park where they’re free from the sit/lie laws 
that began to be enforced in the city early last 
year, and now they’re heading to a drop-in centre 
called the Haight Street Referral Center to get something to eat.
The cafés, vintage clothing and music shops are 
open but the road is quiet. The calm is broken by 
a boy who roars up the street on a skateboard, 
pulled along by his dog. Then comes the sound of 
an argument, one of the gang is in a war of words 
with someone, a tourist or maybe a shopkeeper, 
who has objected to him urinating in the street.
This is where calls for San Francisco’s sit/lie 
laws began. These laws, which were enforced last 
March, have made it illegal to sit or lie on the 
city’s sidewalks between 7.00am and 11.00pm.
Through a public records request, local 
newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, obtained 
sit/lie statistics for enforcement. Over the 12 
months to August this year, the police had issued 
422 warnings, handed out 333 official ‘citations’ 
- each of which came with a fine of between $50 
(£31) and $500 (£311) - and made 18 arrests.
Business owners here believed the presence of 
youths like ‘Hero’ (pictured here with his dog 
Karma), a 22-year-old originally from Colorado, 
was scaring potential customers away. Those who 
campaigned for sit/lie have since reported that 
the legislation has not made a difference, but a 
22-year-old girl who calls herself Purple says 
the law has changed things around here.
‘People used to play music and sell jewellery, 
they would sit down and hang out,’ she says. The 
reason she and the others stick together in one 
group and have big dogs is because it’s safer 
that way, she explains. ‘Sit/lie was introduced 
because people are fearful of what they don’t know.’
Purple ran away from home when she was 15, she 
now makes money by selling ‘medical marijuana’ 
and has a place to live - but she chooses to 
sleep rough with her friends. ‘I consider myself 
to be a travelling street kid,’ she shrugs.
Another member of the group, a boy with 
dreadlocks who refers to himself as Crumb, was 
‘kicked out of home’ when he was 17. Now 22, he 
explains he did recently have a job in a sandwich 
shop, but ‘got the notion to take-off’. ‘I’d 
lived the life of freedom and I loved it,’ he says.
Obama’s plan to help homeless veterans
Around a million soldiers will be discharged from 
the United States military after returning home 
from Iraq and Afghanistan over the next five years.
Dennis Culhane, a professor of social policy at 
the University of Pennsylvania and director of 
research for the National Centre On Homelessness 
Among Veterans, which was established by the 
Obama administration, estimates that around 5 per 
cent of them will experience homelessness within five years of their return.
This amounts to 50,000 people - and this is in 
addition to the 145,000 veterans, the majority of 
whom are from post-Vietnam War era, who currently become homeless each year.
‘We’re trying to scale our prevention and rapid 
rehousing approach to meet that demand,’ explains Mr Culhane.
He predicts that around 100,000 housing units 
will be needed, adding that many of those who 
become homeless will find their own solutions 
without contacting the United States’ Veterans Administration for help.
 From this month, the US government will provide 
$1.2 billion (£750 million) a year to help 
homeless veterans across the US, around $300 
million (£187 million) of which will be used for 
longer term supportive housing. Before Barack 
Obama became president, around $500 million 
(£312.5 million) was invested annually.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development 
has also committed to releasing 60,000 section 8 
housing vouchers over the coming years. These 
will be used by veterans who are able to find 
private rented sector housing. They will then pay 
30 per cent of their income on rent and the 
federal government will make up the rest. Thirty 
thousand of these vouchers have already been handed out. 
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20121016/0c3b2b1f/attachment.html>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Type: application/x-ygp-stripped
Size: 211 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20121016/0c3b2b1f/attachment.bin>
-------------- next part --------------
+44 (0)7786 952037
uk-911-truth+subscribe at googlegroups.com
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which 
alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered that shall not be 
revealed; and nothing hid that shall not be made known. What I tell 
you in darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye hear in the 
ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

Die Pride and Envie; Flesh, take the poor's advice.
Covetousnesse be gon: Come, Truth and Love arise.
Patience take the Crown; throw Anger out of dores:
Cast out Hypocrisie and Lust, which follows whores:
Then England sit in rest; Thy sorrows will have end;
Thy Sons will live in peace, and each will be a friend.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20121016/0c3b2b1f/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list