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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS AND SCAPEGOAT POLITICS

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The Hotel Council of San Francisco is sponsoring a billboard ad campaign which can be seen on MUNI buses and taxis around the city. The ads depict panhandlers as being “aggressive,” drug-addicted maniacs. In response, on August 6th, 7th, and 8th, community activists and concerned citizens held three days of protest in response to the SF Hotel Council’s hate campaign. The campaign has several billboard ads with a similar theme. One ad reads: “Today I adopted a cat, gave some change, and shut down my corner grocer” with a sub-message: “giving to panhandlers doesn’t help, it hurts.”

The protests took place at three Hotel Council member hotels: the Handlery, the Nikko and the Huntington. Protesters marched, rallied and spoke out against the Hotel Council’s hate messages. “The kind of thinking that goes into a campaign like this is one of the reasons why San Francisco was rated second meanest city in the country for treatment of its poor,” declared LS Wilson of the Coalition on Homelessness’ Civil Rights Work Group. We need solutions, not hate campaigns — not more laws aimed at criminalizing homeless people for just trying to survive on the streets.”

The timing of the Hotel Council’s campaign is also suspect, meaning it’s probably meant to support a November ballot initiative called Proposition M or the “Aggressive Solicitation Ban and Mental Health Diversion Initiative.” Authored by mayoral candidate Gavin Newsom, this initiative would amend and replace current ordinances on what is considered “aggressive” panhandling, and promises substance abuse and mental health diversion programs for eligible violators.

Like Newsom’s last fiasco, Prop N, the problem with this proposed initiative is that it would do absolutely nothing to resolve the real issues of homelessness and poverty, or even why people need to panhandle in the first place. There is also great concern over Prop M’s potential for abuse, because it would give police as well as merchants the authority to determine what constitutes “aggressive” behavior.

The promised diversion into mental health or substance abuse treatment is where the problem lies. If there were enough services there would be less need for poor people to panhandle. According to the Office of Controller’s cost analysis, Prop M would cost the city approximately $900,000 annually. The Controller’s report uses an example based on the rate of similar violations such as obstructing a sidewalk or illegal lodging. Prop M would cost approximately $3,700 per person with a (very conservative) projected participation of 20 persons a month being charged or referred to public health diversion programs.

How such diversions would be implemented is the big question. According to Dr. Mitch Katz of the Department of Public Health, “There is no DPH program that addresses this type of infraction,” essentially admitting that services for this do not exist, in much the same manner as whaat Prop N promised (but couldn’t deliver) in the last election. What Proposition M attempts to do is turn the Department of Public Health into an arm of law enforcement.

Proposition M would inappropriately broaden the definition of “aggressive solicitation.” Just the act of panhandling would be considered “aggressive” panhandling. This will undoubtedly cause many who are just quietly asking for monetary help to be charged criminally. There are many reasons why people panhandle, be it for something to eat or to pay the rent for their hotel room but, in most cases it is not by choice it is a necessity.

If Proposition M passes at the ballot this November we can expect the same problems we saw with Proposition N (a ballot initiative passed last November to cut general assistance to homeless recipients) because it is too broad and lacks details. Questions arise: How will it be implemented? How will it be enforced? What about free speech issues? These are issues of serious concern.

Homelessness is a complicated issue and people are frustrated with problems that arise out of it. However, creating laws that criminialize homeless people will not solve these issues. Instead, we need a more comprehensive approach to address this issue. We need solutions which will foster change in people’s lives, solutions would which give them some incentives along with the means to get their lives back so they can become positive members of our community.

The Coalition on Homelessness has developed a 10 Point Plan to immediately address some of the most pressing issues on homelessness, such as filling vacant housing units that are owned by the city, creating a 24-hour mental health drop-in center, and establishing a homeless prevention fund which would assist individuals with back rent so they can maintain concontinued from page 1 trol of their apartments and not add to the numbers of homeless people on our streets.

These are some of the steps we can take to immediately address homelessness here in San Francisco. Attacking poor people through deceptive and hateful propaganda, like the Hotel Council’s campaign is doing, will not solve anything. It will not address the root causes of why people panhandle, but instead only promote prejudice against all panhandlers. Between Gavin Newsom’s Proposition N and his new Proposition M, along with the Hotel Council’s deceptive and inflammatory ad campaign, it appears that there is clearly an all out attack on poor people in San Francisco.

Instead of smear campaigns and laws criminalizing homeless people for necessary acts of survival like panhandling; instead of lies and false promises; we need to work towards real solutions such as getting more affordable housing units online and expanding treatment and service options to help support homeless people in their journey out of homelessness.

Vote NO to Hate!

Vote NO on Proposition M!

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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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