San Francisco is spending about $22,000 every hour on homeless people.
November 6, 2001 5:31 PM   Subscribe

San Francisco is spending about $22,000 every hour on homeless people. "Leave politics out of it. Leave all the issues of needy folks out of it. We're talking about hygiene here," he said. "It's where people walk and take their kids. It's dirty and nasty and not healthy."

"New York City, credited with cleaning its streets of the chronically homeless, offers shelter to every person needing it - 27,000 a night. San Francisco instead focuses on long-term housing solutions featuring full services for those lucky enough to get in." (via obscurestore)
posted by owillis (39 comments total)
 
(sorry about the extra space)
My POV would be this an indictment of the traditionally liberal school of thought to throw money at the root of a problem to "enable" the person, versus providing a concrete solution to the problem as it currently exists. But I'm curious what you all think.
posted by owillis at 5:33 PM on November 6, 2001


Brown admitted, "I don't have an answer," to homelessness. "The problem may not be solvable."

Probably, but what a cop out. The idea is to clean up the streets - NYC did it. Enough already. I have lived in the Bay Area for 14 years and seen no improvement in this pathetic situation, mayor after mayor. Even progressives in this town are starting to demand new thinking and solutions on this.

The stranglehold of "homeless advocates" needs to be broken. Get these people off the streets and out of these filthy tent cities. These so called long term solutions are ineffective and costly. Why not use the closed military bases around the Bay Area and house and provide them drug and mental health treatment services there? Offer first, and then, yes, forcefully relocate those who are mentally ill and not physically capable of caring for themselves.

How I wish Rudy would come West and work some of his magic in this town.
posted by scottfree at 6:02 PM on November 6, 2001


"Awakened, Dinovo cursed bystanders, ate from a trash can, then urinated and gushed diarrhea into the street. "

Maybe he's a performance artist.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:06 PM on November 6, 2001


I don't think it's a direct indictment--since at least *my* commonsense traditionally liberal approach would start by making sure that there are beds and food (and ideally mental and physical healthcare, but at least beds and food) available for every person who needs them in the city. Then, yeah, I'd argue for long-term housing solutions, if they went along with long-term addiction treatment solutions, long-term employment training solutions, etc. But the beds come first.

As annoyed as I've been at the Chronicle's coverage of this mess--

(I do not think that the primary reason humans should help other humans who are in states of extreme distress is because they're unsightly and relatively well-off people might not want to go to the city to be entertained . . .

I also do not think that the city's trash-and-dirt issues are entirely the fault of the homeless--the people I see trashing the streets include people from all walks of life, from the homeless and the not-so-sane to well-heeled yuppies and everybody in between, and the city does not seem to have or be enforcing laws ensuring property owners keep their property clean regularly . . .)

--as annoyed as I've been, I do like the points that this article makes, that a. the spending priorities seem to be off and b. it is possible to do something about it without actually criminalizing homelessness or mental health problems.

There seems to be a (mistaken, stupid) binary view at work in the city that says that the only two options available are to either a. leave everything the way it is and watch things slowly get worse as we slide into a recession or b. be really, really, really mean to homeless people so that they'll go away and disappear or die or something so we don't have to look at them anymore.

Anyway, yes, we could start to fix this by copying that NY law forcing the city to make a bed available for every person who needs one.

And if we start arresting / fining people for nuisance crimes, we'd better darn well arrest / fine everybody who commits them, whether they have a home or not.
posted by feckless at 6:06 PM on November 6, 2001


Citizens of New York, Welcome to the Future!

Boy is this city gonna miss Giuliani.
posted by nobody_knose at 6:35 PM on November 6, 2001


maybe it seems obvious, but why not give the $22,000 to the homeless as their income. that'd probably solve the problem outright. i'm sure there are complicating factors, of course, but since no one else had mentioned it...
posted by moz at 6:40 PM on November 6, 2001


Moz, the result would be a swarm of overdose deaths. Of course, in one sense that's a solution...
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:43 PM on November 6, 2001


Moz, the result would be a swarm of overdose deaths.

Homeless certainly does not equal addict.
posted by skallas at 6:45 PM on November 6, 2001


why not give the $22,000 to the homeless as their income
Yes, let's pay people not to work. Where can I sign up?
posted by owillis at 7:04 PM on November 6, 2001


I saw this post and remembered a news report that aired here in the Bay Area about ten days ago on local news. The coverage of the homeless problem was worded in a similar fashion as that of the SFGate article.

I have lived in the Bay Area for coming on two years now, having grown up in New York City, and I am appalled at the attitutde and perspective taken by many local citizens regarding homelessness. You look at it like an eyesore, something to be removed for your benefit. New Yorkers view homelessness as mental health issue, an epidemic effecting people, not as a "way of life" law similar to a noise ordinance.

the West Coast homeless problem is exacerbated by the warm weather and plethora of able-bodied, able-minded young and old men and women who choose not to participate in the 9-5 scene and feel as if they are entitled to take up shop wherever they choose. Asevere heroin and methamphetamine problem not seen on the East Coast and Midwest, is also a large contributor.

Mental Health and the ever popular theory that "Life Sucks" remains to be a leading cause for homelessness.

The Bay needs to re-examine their perspective on homelessness and stop feeling so bad for themselves and the oh-so terrible dot-com fallout. ("The whole country is in a recession, not just you," is what I feel like screaming looking at all the sullen, unemployed faces in SF these days)

Homelessness needs to be attacked by a caring populous and a supportive government and a committment of funds. If social bonds tie us together for one reason alone, it is to attempt to care for those less fortunate than us.

scottfree: re-read your post and tell me how callous it sounds. As long as the problem isn't staring you in your face, its getting better. Right?

feckless: well said.

posted by perestroika21 at 7:17 PM on November 6, 2001


Have they no refuge or resource? Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?
posted by aramaic at 7:30 PM on November 6, 2001


Mad Dickensian props to aramaic.
posted by Optamystic at 7:38 PM on November 6, 2001


There are two problems here...

Problem One is a lack of beds in homeless shelters for those who want them. This is easy enough to fix, but requires either an increase in the city budget or a decrease in funding for other programs.

Problem Two is the "uncooperative" homeless. These are the people who for whatever reason, be it mental illness, drug addiction, or sheer perversity, would rather live on the street than in a shelter. This is a much tougher nut to crack. Giuliani essentially said "get thee to a shelter, or we'll throw your ass in jail."

Giuliani got results, but at the expense of pissing off a lot of people. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), New York as a city is willing to accept that tradeoff, while San Francisco isn't.
posted by jaek at 7:49 PM on November 6, 2001


Problem One is a lack of beds in homeless shelters

I gotta believe that $22K should buy you more than enuff beds...
posted by nobody_knose at 7:59 PM on November 6, 2001


I dunno. Just give $22K to a homeless person every hour and you should get rid of the problem pretty quick, or at least do wonders for the local economy.
posted by fleener at 8:13 PM on November 6, 2001


wait -- there are homeless people? In San Francisco?!?

I remember reading that the main problem is jaek's problem 2 -- people that would prefer to be on the street than in a shelter. I believe there are already sufficient beds, but to get one you have to accept certain restrictions -- most significantly, no drug use (including alcohol) and a curfew (you gotta be there by a certain time of evening, after which you can't leave until morning).

Underlying this (and this is mainly conjecture on my part, supported by what I saw in SF and people I talked to, mostly in the Haight) is SF's apparent appeal to the homeless and to travelers of little means. Certainly younger people are drawn there, and they find there many other people of similar inclinations, as well as a very permissive government structure (though you gotta love those signs at the pedestrian entrance to GG Park across from Haight: "This is a drug free area". Yeah, right) and a mild climate.

No cosmetic policy changes will correct this kind of established pattern. It seems that some people prefer a lifestyle that adversely affects many others in the city; any solution that has any chance of being effective is going to be a solution that many people, not just the people creating the problem, will be unhappy about.
posted by mattpfeff at 8:22 PM on November 6, 2001


having lived in nyc for almost nine years and in san francisco for just one, it seems clear to me that the difference in attitudes towards the value of shelters (as described in this article) is key. in new york, there is a committment to getting every homeless person off the streets every night - and yes, they turn them back on the streets every morning, but at least each person gets dinner, breakfast and a few hours of sleep and being treated like a person. that doesn't seem to happen in san francisco. also, in nyc, at least some of the shelters are community-based - it's very easy to volunteer for a night or a few nights, and that makes a big difference in mobilizing volunteers. the san francisco coalition on homelessness is a great organization, but the battle definitely feels more uphill here than in new york...
posted by judith at 8:24 PM on November 6, 2001


I am struggling to see how the homeless problem could be worse than it was 5 years ago, the last time I lived in San Francisco ... but I guess I should try to visualize. Sad to say, the people of SF seem to get what they deserve in terms of their ludicrous local politics. There's nobody so left in NYC politics who will pay the lip-service to the "dignity" of homeless in the paralyzing way that even SF moderates seem to be compelled to do.
posted by MattD at 8:28 PM on November 6, 2001


perestroika21 - Yes it does sound callous - and maybe it is. No apologies. I happened to just finish spleen-venting with a fellow co-worker and San Franciscan over the water cooler and logged on to MeFi to see this post. There was probably some spillover...

I agree with the majority of your analysis and suggestions, however this is not fallout from the dot-com bust. This has been a chronic problem for the last 15-20 years. At the height of the boom there were as many. It is not a simple matter of a caring populous and supportive govt and commitment of funds - we have had all in varying degrees for the last 4 administrations (Feinstein, Agnos, Jordan and Brown) with little visible improvment.

We need new ideas and we need to bbq a few sacred cows. The current plans are not working. We need to allow more than a 72 hour holding period for the mentally ill. Not doing so results in a revolving door that provides no hope of a solution to stabilize people, and often brings harm to themselves and others. We need to require institutionalization, treatment or medication of some against their will. We are not helping individuals or society by continuing to enable addicts and letting the mentally ill fend for themselves in the name of "civil rights".

First help, and if necessary force, people off the streets AND into shelters - we have facilities that are not being used around the Bay Area in Alameda and Treasure Island. Lots of barracks for housing. Services can be provided there. Sorry, if you want to live in the great out of doors, go camping in the Sierras.

Skallas - yes the majority of these folks are substance abusers, mentally ill or both.
posted by scottfree at 8:38 PM on November 6, 2001


Populace.
Please, for the love of God: POPULACE!

*cough* sorry 'bout that....
posted by aramaic at 8:45 PM on November 6, 2001


That was the Greek spelling :)
posted by scottfree at 8:51 PM on November 6, 2001


I am also callace as well as a poor speller...
posted by scottfree at 8:57 PM on November 6, 2001


I Don't know, but to save money, I'd round up all the homeless people, Say "Here's Five-Thousand Dollars each....Now Get The F#*K Out of San Fransisco!"....
posted by danger at 10:36 PM on November 6, 2001


There is one difference between San Francisco and New York: the winters in NYC get a lot colder. Part of the impetus to "get them off the street at night" in NYC was the fact that they were finding so many of them dead of cold in the winter.

DC went through the same thing; there were a couple of high profile cases where homeless people were found dead in the winter within sight of the White House -- and they instituted something similar to what NYC has done.

SF winters are sufficiently mild so that this is much less of a problem. They do die (everyone does) but not the way they were in NYC, from exposure frozen in the snow.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:51 PM on November 6, 2001


Homeless certainly does not equal addict.

For "certainly does not," read "does not necessarily." It is hard to exaggerate the drug epidemic among Bay Area homeless.
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:24 AM on November 7, 2001


Two hundred million dollars a year, combined with presumably similar budgets from other cities, would be enough to start a city somewhere. I mean a place that would be located and built to care for the deranged homeless without locking them up.

With that sort of money, surely you could make a place where they would be just as free to sleep naked in the street or the park, but they would never have to. They would be much more likely to be fed and given secure voluntary housing and medical treatment, and much less likely to be run over, arrested, locked up, or frozen to death. Maybe they would even be given the drugs they crave, possibly in exchange for some sort of treatment to start getting them clean.

But I wonder if a guy like Joe Dinovo -- "a one-legged drug addict, lying in his own vomit at high noon last summer on the sidewalk ... naked from the waist down" who "cursed bystanders, ate from a trash can, then urinated and gushed diarrhea into the street" -- would like such a place? How much is he really aware of and connected to the city and the people in it? Does he feel like he wants to live there, or does he just happen to be there because that's where he was when he hit the streets and that's where he can continue to beg for drug money?
posted by pracowity at 4:48 AM on November 7, 2001


My POV would be this an indictment of the traditionally liberal school of thought to throw money at the root of a problem to "enable" the person, versus providing a concrete solution to the problem as it currently exists.

Frankly I'm surprised at your POV, owillis ;)

Seriously, though, I'm interested what your non-liberal, concrete solution would look like. You can't "enable" a drug addict or mentally ill person by throwing money at them, I agree. Their problems run deeper than simply "giving them a chance" can solve. I think the problem here is less about spending money though, than spending it right.

I'd like to see some shelters built that people would actually stay in. If someone is a drug addict, you won't "get them off the street" by building a restrictive regime for them, such as drug-use bans and curfews. Similarly, mentally ill people are often afraid of routines and authority. An enclosed park off the back of the shelter would give a haven for anyone who wanted to sleep outside the building. The first thing to do is to start re-enfranchising people, not disenfranchising them further.

Pracowity's idea scares me though. Ghettos have never been a good idea. When you seperate the rich and the poor, the rich can too easily forget all about them. You'd be building a deliberate two-tier state.

I think your suggestion of medical aid, and clean, prescribed drugs for those that are incapable of stopping would be good. The ulcers and death are all to do with adulterated street quality stuff. You can be a heroin addict all your life without adverse physical side-effects, if you carefully inject pure medicinal-quality drugs. This would also reduce begging and crime. The difficulty would be making sure that you weren't getting anyone started.

I don't claim to know the total answer. I just believe you have to think your way further inside a homeless person before you can come up with it. What do they think the solution is, for instance? Is there some kind of compromise between virtual incarceration and pavement-sprawling?
posted by walrus at 5:37 AM on November 7, 2001


It scares me, too, but just a little, and it sounds better than what they've got and what they're likely to get more of.

And look at it cynically (because that's the only way to look at things in such a rich country with so many poor people): city dwellers would almost certainly be willing to pay a lot more money for the deranged homeless if it meant keeping them comfortable and healthy and encouraging them to stay far away. People who practically spit on the homeless now would happily pay heaps of cash to get them to voluntarily move away.
posted by pracowity at 6:39 AM on November 7, 2001


This tragic situation--mentally ill people being homeless, not hospitalized--has been in the making for decades, according to UC-Berkeley's Institute for Governmental Studies: Mental health Reform [AB 1800] is Stymied in the California Senate. (Sadly, AB 1800 did die in the 2000 Senate.) In 2001, Assemblywoman Helen Thomson, a psychiatric nurse, returned with AB 1421, which would establish supervised and judicially mandated outpatient programs modeled on New York's system, created by Kendra's Law.

This isn't just a California problem, writes the president of the American Psychiatric Association, in Shame on Government: "Prevention, early intervention, adequate resources, and police training to help them recognize people with psychiatric illnesses are essential. When state governments fail to pass meaningful mental illness legislation, the shame continues."
posted by Carol Anne at 6:43 AM on November 7, 2001


For "certainly does not," read "does not necessarily." It is hard to exaggerate the drug epidemic among Bay Area homeless.

At the same time, as with most cities, there is a large (and mostly invisible--these aren't the people this article so nastily describes) population of homeless people who are sane, clean, have jobs (at least in a good economy--which we no longer have), and just *can't afford rent* (or, in many cases, could afford rent but can never scrape together enough to put down a deposit).

This is hardly surprising in the Bay Area, the most expensive place to live in the country. They live in motels (when they can), their cars (if they have a car), and shelters (if there are beds available). Minimum wage jobs don't cut it for these people--but they also don't have the resources to move somewhere cheaper.

(The fact that we have a mayor callous enough to suggest that people who can't afford to live here "should just move somewhere else" is a bad sign in itself.)
posted by feckless at 8:20 AM on November 7, 2001


When you separate the rich and the poor, the rich can too easily forget all about them

what about this is rich vs. poor? it sounds more like the sane vs. the dangerous.
posted by nobody_knose at 8:34 AM on November 7, 2001


i say take the $200 million/year and get the four seasons or ritz to build a deluxe luxury resort for the homeless. the finest of everything for them to enjoy. provide the best food, teachers, medicine, physical trainers, drug rehabilitators, pools, golf courses, tennis courts, massage therapists, spas, etc. it will be walled off of course, medium security prison or something of the sort. no alcohol, drugs, or cigs allowed. have a 1 year commitment. set goals and offer rewards. if jimmy gets out after a year and gets his life together he can go back to the resort and party with some playboy bunnies. clean them up, work them out, teach them something, and instill some american materialism into them. shit, why not?
posted by physics at 9:26 AM on November 7, 2001


Why not use the closed military bases around the Bay Area?

Because they're going to become Starfleet Academy.
posted by phoenix enflamed at 9:41 AM on November 7, 2001


Another reason for SF homelessness problem is that SF has become the place for young gay kids to go when they run away from their various homes around the country. These kids are—or at least feel—persecuted and they think they can just go to SF and be accepted. But they are still runaways without jobs, homes, families, etc, and they end up on the streets of The Haight selling themselves for food and the possibility of shelter.

Just my $.02
posted by terrapin at 10:38 AM on November 7, 2001


Several of you have gotten the math wrong. They aren't spending $22K per person, that's the per hour figure. They are spending $200M per year, and estimate 2K people.

That's $100K per person, which is truly staggering. To compare, the super max prison discussed the other day spends $100 per day / $36.5K per year.

I do think that 2K homeless in a city the size of San Francisco seems low. I've never been there, but there are more than that here (Houston area), and we don't seem to have have as much of a problem.

I'd like to make two points. I've worked (as a volunteer) with homeless folks thru our church, and most of them that are long term homeless are homeless by choice. They have somewhere to go, but they prefer the streets. The story refers to 70% as mentally ill or with an addiction of some sort. That's low by my experience, but I'm not a pro, just someone who cares. If we aren't going to lock people away for mental illness / addiction, we will have to learn to live with people who made odd, bad, and destructive choices, and make sure to try to get as much help as possible to those that want it. Help may be a rehab program, a hot meal, or just a clean needle. Each person has his/her own unique problem, and blanket solutions aren't very effective.

The second point is more serious, and why this won't get a resolution anytime soon. Obviously, the people on the streets aren't getting much of the $200 million. Various people who work in these programs are. They've a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and they are the same "experts" the city will likely turn to for "solutions".
posted by argon405 at 11:20 AM on November 7, 2001


what about this is rich vs. poor? it sounds more like the sane vs. the dangerous

I won't be so crass as to hope that one day you'll find yourself on the streets through losing your fortune/job and defaulting on your mortgage, or through the onset of mental illness. I will suggest that you'd eventually resort to drugs or alcohol to numb the mindless misery of it all, if you did.

I'll just hope that one day something pops your little bubble and shows you the smallest glimpse of real life. It'll be hard to be so callous afterwards, mark my words.
posted by walrus at 11:38 AM on November 7, 2001


I do think that 2K homeless in a city the size of San Francisco seems low. I've never been there, but there are more than that here (Houston area), and we don't seem to have have as much of a problem.

Yup.

"The census results will be released next week. Last year's homeless count found 5,376 people, a fraction of the estimated 14,000 that homeless advocates say is the actual population."

--from an article about the city's effort to count the homeless.
posted by feckless at 1:00 PM on November 7, 2001


I dunno. Just give $22K to a homeless person every hour and you should get rid of the problem pretty quick, or at least do wonders for the local economy.

And perfectly illustrative of on of the differences between Rebublican and Democrat economic theories. Of course, the reason that that doesn't happen is because what would be the purpose of the government if the populace was self-sustaining!? *gasp*

Several of you have gotten the math wrong. They aren't spending $22K per person, that's the per hour figure. They are spending $200M per year, and estimate 2K people.
That's $100K per person, which is truly staggering. To compare, the super max prison discussed the other day spends $100 per day / $36.5K per year.


Indeed, that is absolutely ridiculous...
posted by fooljay at 1:48 PM on November 7, 2001


Marti Burt of the Urban Institute recently released a number of reports and a book on Homelessness:

* What Will It Take To End Homelessness?
* Helping America's Homelessness: Emergency Shelter or Affordable Housing?
* Interview with Marti Burt on Homelessness and her research

Full disclosure: I work for the Urban Institute.
posted by terrapin at 8:15 AM on November 8, 2001


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