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HOMELESS CAMPERS SWEPT FOR MINDING THEIR OWN BUSINESS

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July 27th : Well, here they come — the City that is. The City has again declared war on homeless people. In a pre-dawn raid on a homeless camp located in front of the Mission Creek pump station near Pac Bell Park they came. They came with police, dump trucks and bulldozers. At around three in the morning police drove into the camp on Berry Street with lights flashing, sirens, and barking orders to evacuate the site or be arrested over their P.A. system. Panicked residents scrambled to grab what possessions they could.

About a hundred people had been living there in a tent village for close to a year. The camp on Berry Street was home for those without a home. But it was more than that, there was a community. For the most part, people there got along, and respected one another. There was more unity there than in some of the City’s best neighborhoods. The site was basically clean and well run. Even when the press started to came down to the site a few days prior to the sweep, none of then could point out any real criticism of the conditions of the camp. Despite claims from Public Utilities Commission officials that they were not going to evacuate the people from the camp until a new fence arrived — giving the residents about two weeks to move from the location — instead the campers got no warning and were evicted from the camp.

In San Francisco’s latest assault on homeless people we can clearly see that the City’s policy is to divide and conquer, to disperse the homeless, and to criminalize them with “quality of life” laws which make it a crime to sleep or camp. The City seems to be far more concerned with the building of new luxury rentals in the area around Pacific Bell Park than with creating the affordable housing homeless people need so they can exit homelessness once and for all.

People do not choose do be homeless — it is not a desired lifestyle.

But with rents for an average one bedroom apartment in the range of $ 1600 a month (not to mention the security deposit), it’s no small wonder that anyone can afford to live in San Francisco.

San Francisco is becoming a city for the rich, and most of those who work here cannot afford to live in San Francisco.

The origins of Homelessness can be traced back to the early eighties under the Reagan presidential administration. It began when rents skyrocketed, when rent control was under full assault, when people were no longer able to afford inflated rents and were forced to the streets. From then until present day, greed is the creed by which landlords and developers live by, and cities like San Francisco bow to their every command.

Homeless people have become punching bags and scapegoats, blamed and accused at every turn, when they are merely a symptom of the system that has gone awry.

A system that’s corrupted.

Here we are twenty years later and homelessness has become a prime issue for politicians across the nation. Here in San Francisco a ballot initiative proposed by Supervisor Gavin Newsom — “Care Not Cash” or Proposition N — is based on the premise that reducing general assistance payments to $59 dollars a month and converting to a service based program will solve homelessness.

In reality it will only increase homelessness.

Why?

Because no affordable housing exists, and every night shelters are at full capacity. People who live in casual living arrangements, such as renting out a room in someone’s apartment, would not be able to pay their share of the rent under Prop N. And the initiative does not guarantee that money diverted from General Assistance payments will go into the construction of new affordable housing.

Supporters of Proposition N fail to consider that the majority of homeless individuals do not receive general assistance, that only 2700 of an estimated 12,000 are on General Assistance. The fact is that most have no income at all, and Proposition N would do nothing to help the remaining ten to twelve thousand who sleep on the streets of our City.

Gavin Newsom said of the camp sweep that it was good public policy and represented genuine good will on the part of the City, referring to claims that the City offered shelter for everyone.

In fact, only a few of the swept campers were offered a single night’s stay at the Episcopal Sanctuary on 6th and Folsom.

Newsom, who is intending to run for mayor in 2003, amounts to little more than a reflection of failed policies around homeless issues.

Appointed by Mayor Willie Brown, and groomed to be his successor, if Newsom is elected mayor it will mean a continued attack on San Francisco’s homeless people.

The sweep of the camp on Berry Street demonstrates that the City has no heart. Until affordable housing is created the City should be assisting those on the streets rather than harassing them. The camp on Berry Street was not a solution to homelessness, but it deserves some credit because so many people got together and made it work.

Homeless people will not disappear until the City understands that persecuting homeless people and cutting their benefits will not resolve anything. San Francisco is doomed to a bleak future, as homelessness in our city continues to spiral out of control.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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