Well, it is confirmed. A panhandler was unjustly incarcerated for four days as a result of Prop. M—an anti-panhandling ordinance that was passed by voters in the November 2003 general election.
Basically, Prop. M does three things: First, it specifically prohibits ANY KIND of solicitation in a large number of public places such as; ATM machines, public and private streets, highway ramps, on any public transit vehicle, or in any public or private parking lot.
Second, Prop. M broadens the definition of “aggressive solicitation” to include asking for money twice or “appearing” to be intimidating.
And finally, it directed the Department of Public Health (DPH) to set up a diversion procedure to screen violators for substance abuse and/or mental health treatment. The problem is that screening does not mean violators of the ordinance will actually get the services they may need because there is no funding attached to Prop. M.
But, the main thing is that Prop. M was expressly not going to be used to jail people, but instead route them into the appropriate services. It was supposed to keep people “out” of jail. However, the reality here is people are spending time “in” jail as a result of Prop. M.
The DA Shuffle (splitting hairs?)
In our attempt to find out information from the district attorney’s office how many Prop. M cases there actually are and how much jail time people have been doing as a result of Prop. M we were informed by assistant district attorney Paul Henderson “that violators were not serving time for Prop. M panhandling charges but, were serving time for failure to appear (in court) violations.” However, when you look at it, its splitting hairs. The fact is Prop. M is resulting in jailing of poor and homeless people simply, because the law is on the books.
How Many More?
First of all, getting information and statistics on Prop. M from city agencies is like pulling teeth from an alligator’s jaws. There doesn’t appear to be any record keeping or oversight on Prop M. Barbara Garcia, a director at the Department of Public Health, seemed clueless about Prop. M cases or even how many screenings there were.
However, according John Wilson of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice—a non-profit organization dedicated to the cause of getting and keeping homeless people out of jail—there are approximately forty cases that have come through there office related in some way to Prop. M.
Services That Don’t Exist
The problem is there are just not enough services. This was even admitted by assistant DA Paul Henderson in a Bay Guardian article (July 20 “Busting beggars”) where he stated; “…people are going to jail because there aren’t enough services for everyone that needs them.”
What Should Be Done?
The vast majority of people who voted for proposition M did not vote to jail panhandlers! So, what should be done? Until there is an appropriate diversion program in place the city should instruct the SFPD to cease issuing Prop. M citations and District Attorney stop prosecuting these charges altogether.
A Three-Headed Monster
Proposition M is essentially, a three-headed monster: It criminalizes poor people; It violates their free speech; and most all it is a Waste of Money! Laws like Proposition M do nothing to solve homelessness but instead only snare more into the judicial system.
Stop Punishing the Poor!
San Francisco should stop punishing its poor people with laws like Prop. M. San Francisco can do better! We need real solutions like building truly affordable housing and creating employment opportunities. We need solutions—not jails.
Poverty is the problem—not panhandling!
NOTE: The Coalition will continue to monitor any cases regarding Prop. M. Look to future STREET SHEET editions…