Mayoral candidate Gavin Newsom, the Hotel Council, the Chamber of Commerce and their friends are at it again. These shameless bedfellows want to punish homeless folks without offering any real solutions. They want to play politics with the suffering of poor people. In other words, business as usual. On the heels of last year’s political gimmick, Care Not Cash, comes another initiative and a well-financed ad campaign from these shameless bedfellows, this one to crack down on panhandling in San Francisco.
The initiative and the ad campaign will do NOTHING to actually get people into housing, jobs and (in some cases) much-needed treatment programs. It will do nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness. It will not even be effective since enforcement will mean that a police force that already has its hands full will have to spend time and money enforcing it. Why are Newsom and his gang going after panhandling and not giving us a comprehensive plan to get people off the streets and into housing and jobs? Simple. Measures like this make it look like Newsom and company care about the poor, that they are doing something about homelessness when in fact they are doing absolutely nothing.
This measure, like Care Not Cash, incites anti-homeless feelings among the electorate to get them to vote for Newsom. Amazing that transparent schemes like this still work. But they do — and well. This panhandling campaign, like Care Not Cash, plays into people’s bigoted perception of the homeless as Willie Horton-like druggies out to get their next fix.
What it ignores are the majority of the homeless who are families, children, people with AIDS, seniors, and others who have run out of options. Some are even employed but can’t afford the immorally high rents in San Francisco. If homelessness is a crime, it’s a crime against the poor who in this country and in this city have no guaranteed health care, a ridiculously low minimum wage and no right to affordable housing. But the Newsom gang obviously doesn’t care about that.
They care about a crucial election. San Francisco has had eight years of a mayor who gave everything to the rich and nothing to the poor. Homelessness has skyrocketed under his watch. But the old money people who are backing Newsom have not hurt. They don’t want to lose the gold-trimmed dome that feeds them. Newsom is Mayor Brown’s chosen successor: ‘Take the crown, my boy, and feed the starving Gettys.’
If you dont believe that this is another politically motivated move from the folks with money, take a look at their website, http://www.wewantchange.com. Beyond the glitzy ads, the website says nothing of any plan to eradicate homelessness, to create jobs for poor people, to provide food, clothing and healthcare for folks who are on the streets.
If the Hotel Council and the Chamber of Commerce want to help, why didn’t they demand more drug and mental-health treatment programs in the budget this year? Why don’t they lobby the Mayor to approve the Continuum of Care plan that addresses homelessness in all its complexities?
Homeless people are not a monolithic population. They’re not all drug addicts, they don’t all panhandle; they have a variety of needs and issues. Any approach this city undertakes has to recognize these realities. The Continuum of Care plan does just that.
Millions were poured into Care not Cash last year, and what does San Francisco have to show for it now? Is the homeless situation any different than it was before that measure hit the ballot a year ago? Has even one person been helped by it? NO. Could all that money have been used better for housing or drug treatment programs?
And while I’m at it, isn’t this anti-panhandling measure an attack on freedom of speech? Since when can the city deny someone the right to ask for money on the streets? Charities do it all the time. At Christmas time, the Salvation Army dons full or partial Santa drag and asks for donations for the very same poor the measure wants to stop from panhandling. In the Castro many organizations solicit money from passersby. Panhandling by any other name. Are we only going to restrict poor people from asking for money because we don’t like them or because some of them might use the money for drugs? You don’t have to give to panhandlers anymore than you have to buy Girl Scouts cookies. It’s your choice. That’s America.
Ultimately, this panhandling measure, like Cash not Cash, will end up in the courts, will end up costing the city tons of money to defend and, I predict, will be struck down. All that time, money and effort for what? Let me reiterate: No homeless person will be helped by this measure, no services will be made available, no housing found. No homeless deaths will be stopped. Let’s call this measure what it really is — electioneering by bashing those who can’t defend themselves.
If there’s one thing you vote against this election, make it this shameless measure and its equally shameless sponsor, Gavin Newsom. Send a message to the groups backing this senseless initiative that we want real change — for a change.