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The Headlines That Weren’t

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Gentle Reader, allow me to entertain you with a story:

Once upon a time, a child was hired to tend to a flock of sheep in the dell outside a bucolic village. As the cock crowed each morning, she drove the sheep out of their pen, down the hamlet’s main street, across the bridge, through the grove, over the hill, and into the dell. But as she passed through the village gate every morning, she counted the townsfolk’s flock: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four sheep, five sheep, six sheep, seven sheep… sleep.

And so she would slumber until the dairymaids stirred to tend to their herds, and the beerwenches rose to open the tavern for the security guards coming off graveyard shift, the code monkeys who kept odd Mountain Dew-fueled hours, and the chronic inebriates who were rumored to be many and costly to the village’s Europinko healthcare system. Then, the little child would run across the bridge, through the grove, over the hill, and into the dell to catch up with her flock.
And the same would happen on her return every evening as the sky blushed and the green grove greyed: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep… sleep. Until she was awakened by the cling-clang of the milchherd’s approaching bells, and she scurried up the hill, through the grove, and across the bridge to catch up with her flock.

Until one morning, upon reaching the dell, she surveyed her flock and found one sheep to be missing. “Alas! O, woe! What ever shall I do?” And so she thought for five seconds before deciding. “A wolf!” she cried. “A wolf has come and seized one of our flock!” Her little exclamation echoed through the chamber of the dell, over the hill, through the grove, across the bridge, down the main street, and into the ear of the snarky gossip columnist who called himself the town crier. “A wolf!” he cried! “A wolf!” he hued. “Our wee hamlet’s flock is being devoured by a wolf!”

And so the townspeople gathered pitchfork and torch and hurried off to put down the beast: Across the bridge they ran, through the grove (slowly, keeping an eye to the ground for the dirty needles that were rumored to litter the forest floor), over the hill, and into the dell, where the lachrymose lass jumped to her feet (not wishing to be caught violating the townsfolk’s strict prohibition on sitting) and waved her crook in the air. “Alas! O, woe! A wolf has come and devoured one of the flock! This is pretty obviously not my fault!”

“Was it red or grey?” asked the townsfolk. “Yes!” cried the little girl. “Did it run east or west?” they asked. “Probably!” she cried. “Did it eat the sheep here or run off with it, still bleating and alive?” they asked her. “Don’t you think that Ed Lee should run for burghermeister?” she replied. “Oh, yes!” concurred an anonymous townsperson.

At this point, a little boy stepped forward. “Pardon me, little girl, but are you certain it was a wolf?” “A wolf!” cried the little girl, looking intently at the snarky gossip columnist who called himself the town crier. “Wolf wolf wolf! Wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf!” “I only ask,” continued the little boy, “because we live on the coast, and no wolves have been seen in this state since approximately 1900, and that was in the Sierras.” “Wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf!” cried the shepherdess to the snarky gossip columnist who called himself the town crier, and the townsfolk nodded in agreement.

The snarky gossip columnist who called himself the town crier turned to the lad with a contemptuous scowl. “If it wasn’t a wolf, little boy, how do you explain the disappearance of the sheep?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the little boy replied. “But the current explanation seems statistically and ecosystemically improbable, and the story doesn’t quite add up. Perhaps a little more thorough consideration would behoove us.” “Wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf wolf!” cried the little shepherdess. The snarky gossip columnist who called himself the town crier sneered at the little lad and turned to Bo Peep. “This is a far more interesting story,” he concluded, and all the townsfolk agreed.

And that, gentle reader, is why we’re not going to tell you that the 2011 Biennial Homeless Count is statistically fatally flawed and demographically meaningless, and that we are doomed *never* to have a decent count until being homeless ceases to be a crime and the City government actively and humanly engages homeless people as equal and worthy neighbors in our city. We’ve been telling that story for almost two decades, and it seems that San Francisco media just doesn’t want to hear it. (Not *you*, Gentle Reader: You have always inspected our graphs and appreciated our statistical analyses with the utmost attentiveness and grace.)

So, instead, we’re telling you the stories that the snarky gossip-columnists who pretend to be journalists *could* have told you instead, using the exact same data.

Every two years, the Federal governments Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires each geographical region that receives Federal funding for homeless services to conduct a point-in-time count of its outdoor and institutional homeless populations. Every two years, the mainstream press reports roughly the same story: (Now former) Mayor Gavin Newsom’s approach to solving homelessness would be working, if it weren’t for all those pesky outsiders coming into San Francisco! This narrative, in fact, could never be substantiated by the Count itself, and has actually been contradicted by the last three Counts. While we have always had extreme doubts about the validity of the Count (see side bar), this year we’re going to highlight seven important stories that the mainstream press is ignoring from the exact same data:

According to the 2011 Homeless Count, street homelessness among families has increased by 280%, nearly quadrupling since 2009. Family homeless shelters confirm that waitlists for shelter access have increased severalfold since the beginning of the Great Recession and its concomitant increase in joblessness.

While homeless families comprised about 8.4% of the overall homeless population in 2009, they are 9.8% of the homeless population in 2011 (including both people living on the street and people living in homeless shelters and other institutions). While the overall homeless population has declined by 0.9%, the population of homeless families has increased by 15.7%. “This puts to lie the canard that homeless people are by and large bushy-bearded single men with shopping carts,” said homeless advocate Miguel Carrera. “We are in fact many communities, and we represent all the diversity of the population at large, from bushy-bearded seniors to toddlers in diapers.”

According to recent enumerations, Black people now comprise 38.5% of the total homeless population of San Francisco, while they only comprise 5.8% of the city’s population as a whole. While homelessness has decreased by a little under 1% according to the 2011 Homeless Count, and the Black population of San Francisco has decreased by 22.6% according to the 2010 Census, the Black homeless population has grown by 10% in absolute terms, and by over 11% as a portion of the homeless population.
“This puts to lie the canard that we live in a post-racial society,” said activist Mesha Monge Irizarry. “Homelessness is very much a racial justice issue.”

The latest Homeless Count has found that the great majority of homeless San Franciscans seeking shelter are unable to actually obtain a shelter bed. Advocates say that difficulty in obtaining a shelter bed increased under the Newsom mayoral administration, when San Francisco lost nearly a third of its City-funded shelter beds to budget cuts. “This puts to lie the canard that the 85 to 100 shelter beds left empty every night were an indication of lack of demand,” said Shelter Advocate LJ Cirilo. “The demand was there, but the beds were apparently unavailable.”

Most Had Lived Here for More than Five Years
According to the latest official count of homeless people in San Francisco, the great majority of homeless people in San Francisco were not homeless when they arrived here. In fact, 40.3% had been San Francisco residents for a decade or more before becoming homeless, while an additional 15.8% had lived here for five years or more before losing their housing. In comparison, 61.1% of all San Franciscans immigrated here from outside of California. “This puts to lie the canard that homeless people are outsiders who come here for our amazing array of social services,” said homeless advocate Jenise Standfield. “Most people in our community were San Franciscans long before they became homeless. Those who do come here come here for the same reasons that everyone else does: For employment, for tolerance, for relationships, and for all the aspects of our city that make San Francisco the amazing, beautiful, diverse city that it is. We’re San Franciscans: Not parasites.”

Most Don’t Access Emergency Room Services
According to the latest count of homeless people in San Francisco, only 2.3% of homeless people in San Francisco came here for homeless services. 76.9% of homeless people do not engage in County-administered government assistance, 53.4% do not access City-funded shelters, and 52.4% have never been to the emergency room in the past year; 61% usually do not use the emergency room for healthcare. “This puts to lie the canard that all homeless people are a great drain on the public coffers,” said homeless advocate Jesus Perez. “The great majority of homeless people don’t even access City-funded services.”

According to the 2011 Homeless Count, 50.6% of all panhandlers in San Francisco make $50 per month or less. Only 7.7% make $10 per day or more.
“This puts to lie the canard that panhandling is a stupendously lucrative scam,” said homeless advocate Bob Offer-Westort. “The urban legend that panhandlers make hundreds of dollars per day through alms-begging is just that: a legend. It’s got as much truth as the notion that Alka-Seltzer makes seagulls explode or that witches can’t sink.” We contacted Bayer AG for confirmation of Alka-Seltzer’s gull non-incendiary properties, but have received no comment at press time. Members of the San Francisco Wiccan Meetup confirm that witches are similarly buoyant to everyone else.

The 2011 Homeless Count reports that 69% of homeless people do not abuse addictive substances, while 72.4% of homeless people have no mental illness. According to National Institute of Mental Health statistics, 26.2% of US adults have a mental illness in any given year: a number comparable to the 27.6% of homeless people who have a mental illness.
“This puts to lie the canard that mental illness and homelessness are somehow one and the same,” said homeless advocate Jennifer Friedenbach. “Mental illness is especially difficult for homeless people, who do not have the stability that housed people can depend on, and who are disproportionately criminalized for mental illness. However, the real cause of homelessness is poverty.”

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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