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Chronicle Reaches New Low: Blames Advocates for Fatal Overdose

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In an outlandish and brazenly dishonest article by Chuck Nevius, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Coalition on Homelessness citation defense program is blamed for the overdose of James Hill, a man who passed away recently in the San Francisco Library’s Main Branch.

Nevius claims that if Mr. Hill had been convicted of possession of an open container, he would have been given treatment. In fact, there is no treatment attached to traffic court, nor any treatment being offered by the District Attorney. The most the District Attorney has provided is a list of services that includes phone numbers for treatment programs that are full, with waiting lists.

This is the latest in a long line of lies printed in Nevius’s column.

On October 11, 2007, Nevius ran a story stating that a study Gary Blasi of UCLA found that criminalizing homeless people decreased homelessness, when in fact the study found the exact opposite. Before press time, Nevius was informed of what the study really said, but he ignored that information and lied anyway. Then, on March 2, 2008, Nevius argued that panhandling was out of control because the Coalition on Homelessness defended panhandlers in court. Once again, before he ran the article, we informed him that we had only defended a handful of panhandlers (less than 2% of the number he suggests) over the course of the year. He ran the story with his false claim, anyway.

The Coalition is all of us. We need to hold this newspaper accountable.

Please write a letter to the editor with the following points:

  • San Franciscans are deeply concerned with human dignity. The lack of safe and affordable housing will not be solved by making people without homes into criminals.
  • Contrary to the article by Chuck Nevius, treatment was never offered through the court system to Mr. Hill. There is a severe lack of substance abuse treatment in San Francisco. There are hundreds waiting for treatment every day. The City is proposing cutting that treatment and community based mental health treatment again this year by 15%.
  • It is irresponsible for a major daily paper to continue printing outlandish lies about poor people and the organizations and volunteers who defend their rights.
  • Due process is a basic civil right in the United States that the Chronicle is challenging.
  • If no lawyer had ever stepped forward to represent James Hill, he would be just as dead today, from just as fatal an overdose, following an endless cycle of jail, release, re-offense, and no treatment, because there were no realistic treatment options that James Hill could turn to. Lawyers are not resisting or interfering with access to treatment.
  • San Francisco does not provide enough resources for homeless people—in particular, there is a lack of clean, safe, permanent housing. The roots of this problem lie in the abandonment by the Federal government of low-cost housing a little over two decades ago—a reduction of housing stock that has never been restored.

    Please send letter to the editor of Chronicle at letters@sfchronicle.com and CC it to 1) COH director Jennifer Friedenbach, 2) Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein and 3) Deputy Managing Editor Steve Proctor.

    We want to have a cadre of agency and individual statements in response to the Nevius attacks on homeless people.

    Please Act Now!

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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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