It appears that Proposition M is beginning to claim some of its first casualties. A San Francisco man spent four days in jail for panhandling.
San Francisco superior court judge Kathleen Kelly refused to release the man on his own recognizance before his trial date for three panhandling charges.
Proposition M, an “anti-panhandling” ordinance on the November 4, 2003 ballot made it illegal to panhandle in a large number of public spaces and broadly defines aggressive panhandling to include asking quietly for help twice. Prop M punishes offenders by creating an un-funded and redundant “diversion” program for offenders, expensive fines and jail time.
Wherein lies the problem; No one was supposed to go to jail as a result of Proposition M. During the campaign for Prop M and in his “Yes on M” literature Gavin Newsom insisted that no one would be jailed for panhandling and that violators of the law would instead be diverted into substance abuse or mental health treatment.
Yet, in this case the only diversion was jail! Under Proposition M the Department o a diversion program for violators of the ordinance. Unfortunately, the initiative provided no funding to do this.
How Many More?
The question is how many more are stuck in jail awaiting trial for such offenses. The man charged in this incident was merely holding a sign-he was not verbally asking or approaching anyone. He was ultimately released after the Homeless Release Project posted his bail, which amounted to a total of six hundred dollars (two hundred per charge) for his three panhandling charges.
The DA Shuffle?
In a meeting with the District Attorney’s office last year, the Coalition was assured that no one would be jailed for panhandling violations with the implementation of Prop M, and that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to get three convictions within a year. All this would have to happen for someone to get a six month jail sentence.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
Though the man has not convicted of any charges he was automatically considered guilty by not being released before his trial date.
As you can see, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Look to future STREET SHEETs as we further investigate how many people are actually being diverted into treatment, or if they are instead serving time for panhandling charges.