This year, we commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Coalition on Homelessness. Over these two decades, we’ve seen homelessness go from the “inexplicable” surge of the ‘80s to the do-nothing approach of the ‘90s, to the current “chronic homelessness” fad.
No matter the packaging, a few things have remained constant over the years, such as the head-in-the-sand approach to the crisis of affordable housing, and the unbreakable addiction to blaming those who are homeless for being homeless.
Year after year, we have seen the demonization of homeless people through negative stereotypes that promote the idea that every homeless person is a mad, drug-using criminal. From the Matrix program of Mayor Jordan (1992-1996), which used police helicopters equipped with infrared technology to detect and displace homeless people sleeping in the bushes of Golden Gate Park, to Gavin Newsom’s reincarnation as Rudy “Mean Mayor” Giuliani—complete with broken windows theories and special courts to prosecute poor people for the despicable crime of being poor—the one thing that seems to be just as lasting as homelessness is elected officials’ ease in scapegoating homeless people for executive administrations’ failures.
The cartoon above was first published in the Street Sheet in 1999.
San Francisco has seen a steady increase in the numbers of violent crimes over the last few years. A few months into his administration, Mayor Newsom made one of those hyperbolic statements that powerful people make when they have no intention of actually showing any accountability: If I don’t bring the murder rates down, I should be recalled.
Here we are, a few months before the end of his first four years in Room 200 of City Hall, and violent crimes are still a curse on the residents of the poorest districts of San Francisco. Murder, assault, robbery, and rape are part of the daily lives of the residents of the Tenderloin, SoMa, the Mission, the Western Addition, Bayview/Hunter’s Point, Ingleside…
Something had to be done—something drastic. So, Mayor Newsom figured out that we needed to use 32 more full-time police officers to deal with homeless people. A special court—at which one is not allowed to plead “not guilty” and punishment for serial sidewalk-sleepers is swift—is to be forced down the throats of Tenderloin residents.
As the saying on the street goes: Why do cops harass homeless people? Because fighting crime is a really tough job.