Several politicians and most of the mainstream media tend to blame our community’s polarized approach to addressing homelessness on providers, advocates, and homeless people, but an analysis of the past 15 years reveals a much different reality.
The current corporate/political poster child as “the man with a plan” is mayoral candidate Supervisor Gavin Newsom. Gavin has raised over two million dollars of downtown’s money to convince us that if he’s elected San Francisco will change the way it addresses homelessness by changing the way we deal with homeless people.
Gavin Newsom isn’t the devil incarnate. He is simply another man seeking public office and increased public status in a tried-and-true fashion: identify the problem; simplify its nature; find someone to blame; and attack them.
By reducing the crisis of homelessness down to the presence of homeless people, Gavin, as others before him, is blaming poor people — and attacking them as the solution.
Since the mid-’80s, tens of millions of dollars have been spent by various politicians (or their corporate supporters) pushing legislation to address homelessness by: removing public benches; criminalizing vending; criminalizing sleeping, overnight parking and intent to lodge; fingerprinting welfare recipients in ‘94, and everyone seeking an emergency shelter bed in ‘03; and creating Business Improvement Districts to keep homeless people out of certain parts of town.
Whether or not these efforts have worked is simply a matter of perspective. In the short-term, political careers and increased public status have been obtained for several individuals. While those individuals may come and go (or move around), the powerful moneyed interests behind them, with their requisite perks and privileges, remain the same.
The level of discussion on homelessness has stayed focused on the actions and presence of homeless people, while any honest dialogue on treatment, housing, or employment is written off as avoiding the real issues, maintaining the “status quo,” or pimping for the non-profits.
For the past 15 years the status quo for poor people in America has been the non-profits getting their budgets cut, and government prioritizing corporate welfare and war over human welfare and housing. Meanwhile, homelessness and the numbers of people dying while homeless continues to rise locally and nationally.
Ain’t none of us fighting to maintain this.
By constantly dragging the debate down to a David vs. Goliath, winner-take-all, yes-or-no vote political process we exchange research with propaganda, dialogue with soundbites, and public education with advertising.
Every one of us has a vested interest in addressing poverty. Whether we like it or not, 34 million of us living below the federal poverty line of $18,392 for a family of four and $9,183 for single adults impacts all of us. And the fact that 13.4 million Americans live below half of that should scare the hell out of us.
An honest and informed dialogue on these issues could bring us to some local initiatives we could all support, and we don’t even need a ballot campaign to implement them.
It’s been proven time and time again since Mayor Feinstein first bulldozed a shanty village South of Market in the early ‘80s that a lack of punitive laws and police sweeps did not create homelessness, and increased laws and sweeps won’t solve it.
Demand an honest dialogue to create real change. Reject the status quo, pull back the curtain and unplug the machine. Reject Prop M.