Proposition M, an anti-panhandling ordinance put on the November 2003 ballot by Supervisor Gavin Newsom’, will outlaw most forms of panhandling in San Francisco. Prop M’s proponents are selling the measure to voters as a way to cut eliminate “aggressive” panhandling and connect homeless people with services. However, the proposition is structured in a way that will force San Francisco to spend thousands of dollars on prosecution, deprive poor people of their right to free speech, and relies on services that do not exist.
SUMMARY OF LEGISLATION
Proposition M has three main parts. It broadens the definition of aggressive panhandling (“Solicitation”) to include solicitor asking for money twice, appearing to be “intimidating” and walking around solicitor on the sidewalk. In addition, it specifically bans ANY KIND of solicitation in a large number of public places. A person practicing their free speech by quietly asking for money could be charged criminally. Thirdly, it sets up an unfunded diversion program that would offer expensive and duplicative assessment services, and refer people to services that currently are either full or have long waiting lists.
SERVICES DO NOT EXIST
Proposition M turns the Department of Public Health into an arm of law-enforcement, operating a diversion program for those convicted of panhandling.
According to Dr. Mitchell Katz of the Department of Public Health “…there is no DPH program that addresses this type of infraction.” We know from the experience of last year’s Proposition N that it is one thing to promise services, but another thing altogether to actually provide them.
According to a statement in a letter addressed to John Arntz from Ed Harrington of the controller’s office “…the screening and public health diversion programs proposed under this ordinance are estimated by the Department of Public Health to cost approximately $3,700 per person.” If an individual does not complete diversion they can be imprisoned in County Jail for up to three months. It takes approximately $88.00 a night to keep someone in County Jail. At a time when city services, must struggle to keep their funding this expense is especially unwarranted.
TRIED AND FAILED
San Francisco has already tried politically motivated, police-based homeless programs, and they have all failed. Funds are spent toward police overtime and court costs, rather than on producing results San Francisco deserves.
The only diversion in Prop M will be the diversion of current treatment dollars to a jail-based assessment program. Outreach workers already screen and assess hundreds of homeless people each day. With over 1,000 people on the waiting list for treatment in San Francisco, homeless people are turned away due to lack of space.
VIOLATION OF FREE SPEECH RIGHTS
Freedom of speech does not end just because speech is unpleasant. As long as no threat accompanies a request for money, panhandling is a protected act. If panhandling is outlawed then other forms of speech sometimes found to be offensive — like picket lines and petition signature gathering — could be curtailed as well.
OPENS DOOR FOR FURTHER RACIAL PROFILING
Prop M makes one’s mere presence illegal if that person is deemed to be intimidating, creating a potential for racial profiling and harassment.
NEGATIVE STEREOTYPING OF PANHANDLERS
Proposition M relies on spreading misleading stereotypes of those who panhandle. The reasons that people panhandle are many such as raising money to get a hotel room, food, and medication.
Prop M’s supporters want you to believe that money given to panhandlers will only go to drugs and alcohol. The Hotel Council has already poured $65,000 dollars on advertisements that spread hate messages such as panhandling spreads STD’s and closes small businesses. By diverting our attention from the real causes of disease and economic downturn, this campaign makes it harder to seek real solutions. The interpretation of what is aggressive and threatening is subjective and will undoubtedly be colored by personal perception influenced by such negative media images.
THINLY-DISGUISED MAYORAL CAMPAIGN
This is simply another example of a politcian running for Mayor on the backs of poor people.
HOW COULD PROPOSITION M AFFECT SAN FRANCISCO?
Take, for instance, Central City Hospitality House, who had to fight to keep their doors open this last budget cycle since their city funding was threatened. If in any one year, only 80 people served Prop M sentences, the money expended would equal the amount of money the center had to fight for. This would only take much needed money away from finding real solutions.
WHY DO PEOPLE PANHANDLE?
Across the world, poor people panhandle because they are poor and need money to survive.
It is a key indicator of poverty, and the number of panhandlers is a direct way to measure of a society’s well being.
Rents continue to exceed poor people’s incomes. For example, people with permanent disabilities receive about $757 a month from SSI.
Studio apartments rent for about $1,000 a month in San Francisco.
With the federal government cutting over 80% of housing expenditures for low income people since 1980, waiting lists for subsidized housing is years long. There are currently 20,000 people on the waiting list for public housing in San Francisco, and over 31,000 waiting for housing subsidies.
There are over 1,000 people on the waiting list for substance abuse treatment in San Francisco, and in 2000 one third of those seeking mental health treatment in San Francisco never received it.
IN ORDER TO END PANHANDLING WE MUST ABOLISH POVERTY
This can be accomplished by having minimum wage people can live on, by having housing for all, treatment and health care on demand, and guaranteed incomes for those unable to work. We certainly have enough riches in the United States to ensure this!