The announcement of the City’s new focus on 20 so-called homeless hot spots is yet another instance of electoral-year-motivated initiatives. San Francisco continues to lack a comprehensive plan to address the crisis of affordable housing and services for its poorest residents. While a wave of violent crime rips through our neighborhoods, 32 police officers are diverted from investigating real crimes to work on “quality-of-life” (i.e., crimes of poverty) issues. At the same time that outreach workers spend weeks building relationships with those living on the streets, their work will be now used to direct police officers and DPW staff as first responders for referrals.
The list itself presents troubling aspects. As it is, the list of locales seems to respond to the priorities of some of the Mayor’s most powerful constituencies such as the tourism industry. “I was one of the enumerators for a counting area that contained half of Fisherman’s Wharf. We spotted only ten people out there that night, perhaps half of whom were actually on the Wharf,” said Bob Offer-Westort, editor of the Street Sheet. It is indeed surprising that places such as West Portal and Washington Square are listed as “hot-spots,” while areas known for the high concentration of homeless people in districts such as the Mission or Bayview/Hunters Point are left out.
Furthermore, to use the results of the homeless count to direct police activity is a betrayal of homeless people’s trust. During the community process prior to the count, many service providers came forward to say that most homeless people who live on the streets were wary of being spotted for fear of attracting unwanted attention. City representatives present at those meetings assured the community that police officers would not be involved in the count, and that the locations recorded would not be used to direct police officers to interact with homeless people. And yet, the only concrete steps offered to deal with the “hot spots” are increased activity of the SFPD (whose only power is to issue citations and arrest people) and DPW (which is in charge of removing and oftentimes illegally destroying homeless people’s belongings).
On the other hand, increasing the number of outreach workers only makes sense if the resources available to those workers are fully funded and better yet, expanded. However, it is quite clear that the Mayor’s budget for FY 2007 actually pursues deep cuts to the social and health services provided by City agencies.
Above all, it requires a great deal of denial and double-talk to call for more “outreach” and law enforcement at the same time that Mayor Newsom hands down a stealth veto to the Board of Supervisors’ allocation of supplemental funds to promote affordable housing for the very poor. According to Juan Prada, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, “While hundreds of people are suffering from the lack of real solutions, this hot-spots plan could perfectly be named ‘Much Ado About Nothing.'”