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Lies, and Lies, and Lies…

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Recent Chronicle stories on homelessness, mostly columns by C.W. Nevius, have been riddled with misinformation, assumptions and plain lies. We chose to debunk a few of them, but there are many more.

LIE #1: “A whopping 236 citations for infractions—including camping in the park—have been handed out as well. If history repeats itself, however, those likely will be directed to traffic court and dismissed.” (SF Chronicle 8/22/07)

Tickets are only sometimes dismissed. The Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights represents about 10% of homeless people who receive tickets, and they win about 85% of their cases, most frequently because the ticket was written improperly. The citations are not bundled together and dismissed as a group: they are heard individually. As for those individuals who do not have representation, if they are able to go to court, they can try to argue their own case, but we all know how that goes. Have you ever won a case in traffic court? Most go to warrant if the fine goes unpaid or the citee fails to appear. This can eventually lead to jail time.

LIE #2: “City shelters are clean, safe, but underused when it’s dry” (SF Chronicle, 10/18/2007)

We surveyed shelter residents and 55% reported experiencing some form abuse, while one third reported not feeling safe. Over 50 people are turned away while seeking shelters every day. The article insinuated that six-month stays were offered by outreach workers to shelters such as Next Door (which has empty beds), when in fact they are not. Outreach workers through the Homeless Outreach Team have beds at 150 Otis, which is now full.

LIE #3: “One city official estimated that 9 out of 10 say they are not interested in shelter or housing when approached.” (SF Chronicle, 10/9/07)

Of course the “city official” is not mentioned by name, and anyone working in homeless services knows this specious claim is baloney. Pretty much everyone wants housing—just check the wait lists: 54,000 households and going strong. Every time an affordable housing option become available, the floodgates open as folks desperately try to be among the lucky few to get housed.

LIE #4: “UCLA study supports idea that law enforcement is a key component.” (SF Chronicle, 10/11/07)

This was an unchecked quote from Trent Rhorer, which Mr. Rhorer spoke of on the KQED Forum show, and then C.W. Nevius repeated in print. The quote reads, “Rhorer points to a study that came out of UCLA last month, which supports the idea that law enforcement is a key component in the cities that have experienced a decline” in the number of people lying , sitting, or camping on the sidewalk.”

Nowhere is this line found in the aforementioned report. In fact, the study referred to says quite the opposite. The report, by Law Professor Gary Blasi, finds the program to “clean up” Skid Row in Los Angeles to have been a failure. It found an increase in homelessness after the efforts. It found that homeless people were not linked to services, but were instead jailed. It found that residents in the area were jailed for petty crimes such as jaywalking. It was not a favorable report. At all. Once upon a time, muck-raking journalists investigated politicians’ claims.

LIE #5: “The City spends $150 million on homeless issues each year” (SF Chronicle, 10/11/07)

This number was one of many unchecked quotes from Trent Rhorer. Rhorer is the Director of the Human Services Agency, a top-level municipal government position, and he sits squarely inside Newsom’s “inner circle.” He wrote and implements Care Not Cash. He was appointed under Brown, but stayed on as an appointee after helping get Newsom elected.

You might think the guy knows how much the City spends on homelessness, but it’s actually not that easy a question to answer. The Controller’s Office did an audit of just that a few years back and came up with a number just under $100 million. But, I guess over-shooting by 50% sounded better.

The reason the number is tough to nail down is because homeless people need many of the same services as poor housed people. According to the report, we spend about $19 million on homeless emergency services, which many could argue is the only true homeless expenditure. The rest is on items that a poor person might need regardless of their housing status. Such things as treatment, public assistance, and so forth are included in the $100 million. There is some money included there on supportive housing and homeless prevention, which you could make an argument for being “homeless” funds, except the individual being served is housed.

LIE #6: “Residents of a famously liberal city appear to be changing views” (SF Chronicle, 10/9/07)

This claim is backed up by a quote from political opinion pollster David Binder to support its position as well as its own “informal poll.” There are no actual numbers in the article from Binder. At the same time, the “informal” poll by the Chronicle gave readers ridiculous choices such as:

Should San Francisco have a law against sitting or lying on the sidewalk?

  1. Yes, give the police another tool to clean up the city or
  2. No back to the bad old days of rousting homeless people or
  3. 1 more law they won’t enforce.

These are choices? Another poll asked:

Newsom’s crack down in south of market

  1. Great, tourist area needs cleaning up or
  2. Bad, making it illegal to be homeless or
  3. Sounds like Matrix 2

These silly polls have disclaimers stating, “SF Gate polls are strictly surveys of those who choose to participate and are therefore not valid statistical samples.”

Of course this didn’t stop columnist C.W. Nevius from quoting the poll to help make his thin argument in his 10/9/07 front page above the fold column that liberal San Francisco has had enough of homeless people. Of course the “informal polls” are not only statistically irrelevant, but they also don’t separate San Franciscans from suburban bloggers—a very large chunk of the Chronicle’s readership, and thus a population that is potentially affecting policy in a place where it does not live. Much like, for example, East Bay resident Nevius.

LIE #7: “Life on the street has its own appeal” (SF Chronicle, 10/18/07)

In the early 1980s, hundreds of thousands of people became homeless because of a massive cut to funding of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. This money has never been restored to public housing projects, and only a tiny percentage of it has gone to homeless services.

In claiming that poor people choose to be homeless, one can justify what is essentially a war not on poverty, but on poor people, and advocate for measures designed to turn San Francisco into a playground for the privileged.

LIE #8: “Stabbing casts a shadow on homeless debate” (SF Chronicle, 10/20/07)

There have been three fatal stabbings of homeless people in Golden Gate Park in the past year and a half. We don’t know if they are hate crimes against homeless people, but they are strangely timed to match with anti-homeless rhetoric in the Chronicle and homeless sweeps. Nevius lays out a scenario in which homeless violence has increased tensions among housed residents near the Park. He explores several scenarios and then settles on crack cocaine as the cause of the stabbings. His article suggests of course that it is a homeless person doing the stabbing without coming out and saying it. “Perhaps a more likely scenario,” is of course homeless drug users stabbing each other.

With very little information from the police officers assigned to the case, wild speculation from folks who’ve lived in the city for a week hardly counts as good grounds for conclusions of probability.

LIE #9: “In the two months since a series of columns and stories in The Chronicle prompted a cleanup of Golden Gate Park, there’s been so much progress that even the homeless are impressed.” (SF Chronicle, 9/23/07)

Of course the only one calling the sweeps a success is the Newsom Administration. The police don’t like it and neither do the outreach workers. They are going at 4:00 a.m., a ridiculous time to engage people in services, they are making arrests, and homeless people are simply being moved around.

The few who have made it into services did so to the City-produced disadvantage of other homeless people. For example, the City brags about getting Park residents into shelter. That’s great, except, they put them into a shelter they opened up a day after closing. So 59 homeless people got the boot, then Park residents got in. Temporary housing was given at the expense of others who had been working with outreach workers for months to get that same housing. Most of us aren’t particularly inclined to call robbing Peter to pay Paul “progress.”

LIE #10: Columnist C.W. Nevius is a credible journalist.

Well the Chronicle didn’t come out and say it, but running columnist on the front page with color photos certainly can fool the best of us into thinking it is an actual news story and not a columnist spouting hate-filled messages.

Are you, too, irked at being lied to by San Francisco’s paper of record? Does it offend you that the Chronicle is stirring up hatred toward homeless people in order to increase revenues? Please send a letter to the editors at Letters to the Editor, 901 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

The Chronicle probably won’t print your letter, but we would be happy to run it on the Street Sheet blog. Send us your letter by e-mail or post (468 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102), and check out the letters others have written on this blog.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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