S.F. to fight homelessness by....illegalizing panhandling?
January 8, 2002 12:51 AM   Subscribe

S.F. to fight homelessness by....illegalizing panhandling? Yeah, brilliant. First, let's shut down the state's mental institutions and leave mentally ill people to fend for themselves. Then let's tell the cops to make sure they're out of sight by pushing them from one neighborhood of the city to another. Next, let's confiscate the possessions they keep in shopping carts. Finally, since even the Mayor's office says homelessness in the city was up 36% last year, let's criminalize the homeless that ask for help. Yup, that will take care of them!

Let's hear it for representative democracy and its incredible compassion for the disenfranchised.

posted by precipice (40 comments total)
Maybe they expect all the homeless to migrate to the bay and panhandle the hoards of Japanese tourists. Hmmm.
posted by Aikido at 1:06 AM on January 8, 2002

They sure are spending a lot of money to no avail. SF has allowed the homeless and the accompanying decay to run rampant. I'm not saying this guy's policy is the answer, but "anything goes" sure ain't working either.
posted by owillis at 1:10 AM on January 8, 2002

Actually I think representative democracy has proven many times over that is has compassion for the disenfranchised, and indeed can offer those who both need and want help. I agree this this is not one of those cases, but I disagree with your larger tone and theme-- I think that with creative thinking and the will to change, our democracy can solve problems that affect nearly all citizens.

Let's start by agreeing that there is a homeless problem. It affects virtually everyone on the city, as we all share the public space.

So what solutions do you have? What are ways that would really work in solving this problem? For the sake of argument, let's say that representitive democracy is the one yoke you must use to move this ox.
posted by chaz at 1:21 AM on January 8, 2002

on a previous 'homeless' thread, yesster wrote:

'what we need is to discover/create more diverse modes of participation in culture/society'

I think they might be on to something.
posted by asok at 2:47 AM on January 8, 2002

Oh, I know I'm gonna get slammed, and regret this in the morning...but here goes anyway:

How, in the name of all that is holy, can Americans possibly accept the concept of American homelessness? We are the wealthiest nation in the world. We throw away more food than most industrial nations consume. Many homeless are men who were vets and were injured fighting for this country in land wars in Asia. Homeless women are raped on average 11x a year. (According to NOW.)

A culture where $800 Aeron chairs are justified and the people starving outside the door are ignored.

It's just bloody sick. If I had any idea how to fix it, I would, but damned if I know how.

Ok, there. done. Flame at will. :)
posted by dejah420 at 4:00 AM on January 8, 2002

I visited San Francisco for the first time over Christmas. I was shocked by all the homeless people. I was walking down Market and in all seriousness, there was about 100 homeless people in a little park thing. I must have seen much more than 100 that day. I don't know what the deal is, but it did appear that SF had some sort of problem.
posted by animoller at 4:35 AM on January 8, 2002

Is illegalizing a word?
posted by jackiemcghee at 5:01 AM on January 8, 2002

How, in the name of all that is holy, can Americans possibly accept the concept of American homelessness?

I think that there are many who don't care, but there are also many of us who have come to a realisation -- that you cannot force people to do something that they don't want to do, and for many homeless, that would be the only way that they'd get off the streets.

You cannot force people into alcohol or drug treatment -- and even if you could, that doesn't mean that they'll stay sober after they're released. You cannot keep people in mental wards forever, even if you know that they cannot/will not stay on their medication once released. You cannot force people to conform to the requirements of work or social bonds if they don't wish.

Point is, until we find a way to make people do all of the things that the rest of us do which keep us off of the streets, there will be homeless people. The trick is to learn how to strike a balance between their rights to self-determination with the need to make sure that they and the rest of society are safe and unmolested.
posted by Dreama at 5:14 AM on January 8, 2002

Panhandling is not the only way the homeless can ask for help. Would the Salvation Army turn down anyone's request for a shower, some clean clothes and a ride to the state employment agency? Would Catholic Services say "NO!" to someone asking for the day's job ads, a little cash and directions to the nearest barber shop?

Between government services and charities, the homeless have many options for improving their lots. They simply have to be persistent and seek them out.

No, the beggars would rather choose the lazy way out, and for that reason, they get no sympathy from me.
posted by mischief at 5:34 AM on January 8, 2002

You have to try pretty hard to be homeless.
posted by insomnyuk at 6:28 AM on January 8, 2002

Let's not forget, folks: a sizable fraction of the panhandling that goes on in San Francisco is done by daytripping suburban teens dolled up in their gutterwear who are doing it for kicks and/or beer money.

Of the remaining panhandlers, there seem to be roughly three major groups of about the same size: folks with a "pitch" of some kind who are often as not abusive when refused; the passive sidewalk-and-sign folks who aren't bothering anyone; and the hyperagressive panhandlers who try anything short of physical assault. Between these there is still a fairly broad spectrum of panhandling behavior. Possibly some of it should be illegal -- such as the much ignored law establishing a "no loitering zone" around ATMs where people are already paranoid at night -- but not necessarily all. Certainly the menacing and abusive behavior is criminal, but there are (for this case poorly enforced) existing laws to cover most of that.

I question whether legislation, if needed at all, should be quite so sweeping. Certainly I don't like getting panhandled literally more than once per minute while standing still on Market street. But apart from the exceedingly obnoxious folks -- comprising maybe a third of all comers at the most -- they're well within their rights.

(And why do beggers hang out at ATMs? Don't they know the things only produce 20s? If I had spare change, I wouldn't have to go to the ATM in the first place, right?)
posted by majick at 6:34 AM on January 8, 2002

on diverse modes of participation (via zaa zaa furi):

For a month or so I worked and pretty much lived with a group who called themselves an "anarchist kitchen", which is a bunch of people living outside capitalism and society in general (hence "anarchist"), serving a massive free meal to nearby homeless folk. They did the cooking in their big old 70s Winnebago, and travelled to a new city when they felt like it. I lived with them while they were docked in San Francisco.

They get their food by "panhandling" (as they put it) at the local farmer's markets. They go from vendor to vendor explaining that they are a free kitchen serving food to "homeless" people, and could they please spare any vegetables? Tony, who looks like a gutterpunk but is way too smart and motivated to sit on a sidewalk every day and "spange" (ask for spare change), approaches each vendor with a pitch honed from canvassing for Greenpeace and some PERG. He walks up to the monger with a serious look on his face (unusual for him), hands them a card which inexplicably reads "Certified Farmer's Market", and he meets their eyes and says, "I'm with the People's Kitchen. We cook food for the homeless people living in Golden Gate Park. I was wondering if we could work together on putting together a meal . . ." The mongers, who are mostly Asian, usually play their I-don't-speak-English card at this point. But all it takes are two or three vendors out of the thirty and we've got more vegetables than we can serve before they go bad. Five boxes overflowing. Eventually the problem isn't getting the vegetables, but finding boxes to put them in, as those are apparently more valuable. We get broccoli, baby eggplants, exotic peppers of all colors and shapes, a massive box full of juicing oranges, Russian kale, boxes of apples and persimmons, more grapes than I've ever seen, and so on.
posted by kliuless at 6:38 AM on January 8, 2002

Addendum: Since the feds have negated the requirement that airport screeners require a high school diploma, the homeless have an opportunity to advance themselves. I bet some of those guys are really good at picking out people carrying weapons.
posted by mischief at 6:40 AM on January 8, 2002

No, the beggars would rather choose the lazy way out, and for that reason, they get no sympathy from me.

I spent four years working with a free meal program - the vast majority of those that we served were severely mentally or physically ill and abjectly incapable of meeting even their basic needs, much less negotiating the bureaucracies necessary to "improve their lot." A good number were dying of AIDS or cancer and incapable of working at all.

Just pray that you're never rendered helpless - most people's social networks are very porous, and even the best financial planning can be undercut by catastrophic illness. And as you've pointed out, most people will treat
you coldly should you end up on the street as a result.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:45 AM on January 8, 2002

To attempt to deal with dejah's question, a lot of contemporary homelessness, arguably the fastest-growing sector of it, is people getting priced out of the housing market. It's not at all unusual for people to lose well-paying jobs and be forced into minimum-wage ones, whereby all they can afford is a room at a motel if they're lucky. Something like 1 in 5 families at shelters in my area have one or both parents employed full-time.

Not quite the same thing as yer classic half-crazed panhandler, I guess, but the lack of affordable housing combined with stagnating low-end wages is having a noticeable effect.
posted by alumshubby at 6:59 AM on January 8, 2002

Would the Salvation Army turn down anyone's request for a shower, some clean clothes and a ride to the state employment agency?

Only if you're gay.
posted by @homer at 7:06 AM on January 8, 2002

Dreama -- elegantly well put! Never read a better summation of the dilemma implicit in the homeless "problem."

I do think that a fundamental part of the solution to the homeless problem involves imposing some economic rationality.

San Francisco is among the most expensive places to live anywhere in the United States, and has one of the lowest availability rates of low-job-skill / low-social-skill / low-education jobs. At the heart of the dot-com boom, maybe San Francisco was a little more open, but my buddies tell me that it has already returned to the days, very familiar to me in the early to mid '90s, where every bartender has a BA, every Gap saleswoman is a 5'11" size 2 whose models on the side, and every Barnes & Noble clerk is doing a PhD in modern lit at Cal.

It is simply insane for homeless people to be in San Francisco, rather than in Fresno or Bakersfield, or anywhere else where the burden on government to house them would be less, and the opportunities for those with the ability to work towards self-sufficiency are significantly greater.
posted by MattD at 7:31 AM on January 8, 2002

Whoopsie. Sorry about that.
posted by dhartung at 8:15 AM on January 8, 2002

How about a really crazy, radical idea: a free market in housing? San Francisco and New York City have probably the strongest rent control laws among big American cities. They also have the biggest homeless populations.

Repealing rent control, deregulating single-room occupancy housing and reducing restrictions on building new housing could provide less expensive housing. Cato analysis here.
posted by rbgilbert at 8:35 AM on January 8, 2002

Would the Salvation Army turn down anyone's request for a shower, some clean clothes and a ride to the state employment agency?

Only if you're gay.

Did you even read the page you posted a link to? The Salvation Army has done much much more for gay homeless people than you ever have. If you want to join the Salvation Army (it's a church!) you have to agree to their doctrine and moral practices, which preclude homosexual sex, but their policy is to provide aid to anyone who needs it, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or whatever.
posted by straight at 8:58 AM on January 8, 2002

I walk ONE block from BART to work every day on 9th & Market in SF. I pass, no kidding, no less than 10 homeless people in that walk every single day. One block away is a park where I never count less than 70 homeless people. They are drug addled, lazy, incoherant, dirty, disgusting, and abusive. I feel NOTHING but disgust and repellance towards those people. They are there because they are on drugs and too lazy to do something about it.

There are LOTS of places you can get help in SF and I give money to those places, and I do realize that there are a lot of homeless people who are out of work and can't afford a place to live. Those people I want to help.

begin rant....
But most of the homeless I see are there because they feel the world owes them and they use all their money they get from panhandeling for drugs. I am accosted, threatened, and followed every single day while walking to work as well has having to see them defecate, urinate, throw up, inject themselves, and have sex on the street while I'm walking to work. It's hard to feel anything but loathing.

They disgust me and if they all disappeared (I don't care where they go) the world would be a better place.

end rant

posted by aacheson at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2002

Did anyone actually read the article?

It's not about banning panhandling, it's about banning it where it doesn't belong or is dangerous.

People who panhandle on the median strips are a damned road hazard. To themselves and to the drivers. They hold up traffic and raise the risk of accidents. Begging for cash in a parking garage *should* be against the law. Anyone that I don't know approaches me in a dim garage is, so far as I'm concerned, a threat. Etc.

If you want to panhandle *fine* I don't care. But don't get in my face about it, and let me go about my business. I swear if I gave money to every loser out there who asked me for cash so they could go score another crack rock, I'd be out there panhandling too. Fuck that.

I already give - it's called paying taxes. You want to be a junkie - do it on your dime, not mine.
posted by jaded at 9:50 AM on January 8, 2002

There isn't as broad and safe a line between 'us' - with our homes and computers and lattes, and 'them', with nothing, as most people like to think - a couple of paycheques, some sympathetic family and friends, and that is about it. Nobody goes to bed at night and wishes, "Gosh, I hope someday I can be homeless!"

Why is it so hard to accept that in our society, there will be some people in a position to help others, and others who need help, and nobody occupies one or the other of those positions their entire lives? Why is it such a sin - something contemptible about the homeless that they need a little help, that makes people loathe them so much?
posted by kristin at 9:55 AM on January 8, 2002

Why is it such a sin - something contemptible about the homeless that they need a little help, that makes people loathe them so much?

kristin: because they won't help themselves. I remember as a child, a panhandler knocked on our door and asked for "money for food." My mom informed him that there are plenty of places all over the city he can get food, and that she wasn't going to give him any money. As a kid, I thought it was mean. I mean, we had money, he just wanted a few bucks to buy some food. Now I understand why she did that. There are charities and soup kitchens everywhere. The reason people panhandle is because they want money for drugs, not help. If, for some reason they are panhandling for something other than drugs, it is because they are too lazy or stupid to ask a charity for help. It might sound mean-spirited, but that's reality.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:03 AM on January 8, 2002

Did you even read the page you posted a link to?

You're right. I'm sorry. They just want to discriminate during the hiring process.
posted by @homer at 10:10 AM on January 8, 2002

most goods/services like housing reside (pun!) on a continuum of whether they have more of a private character or public one. most people regard housing as a private good and homeownership is generally treated as such (although it's subsidized by our tax system). but to some degree i derive some enjoyment and utility by you owning a house, so it kinda spills out into the public arena that way. that's the basic rationale behind public assistance/social wages i think. sorta abstract tho i guess.

put another way, when i was watching naked (that mike leigh movie) i was thinking that it'd be cool if homeless people could sleep in office towers at night.
posted by kliuless at 10:16 AM on January 8, 2002

insomnyuk You have to try pretty hard to be homeless.

have you looked at san francisco rents lately? they're so bad that in 2000 the public school system was trying to work out an assistance program to keep teachers in the area.
That's because San Francisco's 4,300 teachers, who on average earn about $40,000 a year, are fast being squeezed out of a housing market in which the average home costs $500,000 and a one-bedroom apartment rents for over $1,600 a month.
here are some more figures from that time
Average rent for a studio apartment: $1,000
Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment: $1,300
Number of evictions filed with the San Francisco Rent Board (only a fraction of evictions are filed with the city): 2,641
Number of those that were owner move-in evictions: 869
it's better now. at that time, apartments stayed on the market for a day or two (if that--no going home and thinking about it) before they were snatched up. the difference now is that properties stay on the market for a month or two; landlords aren't willing to really adjust their rates to a reasonable level. here's an article from 8 months ago:
Rent Tech statistics show that the downturn is hitting some neighborhoods harder than others. Bearing the brunt is dot-com ground zero, the South of Market area. The average price of a two-bedroom SoMa apartment listed on Rent Tech fell from $4,433 at the end of December to $3,447 at the end of February, a 22-percent decline. For all of San Francisco, Rent Tech's figures show that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment fell a more modest 1.5 percent from $2,790 at the end of December to $2,746 at the end of February.
One bedroom apartments are still over $1000 a month. it's not pretty in the city.

majick: a sizable fraction of the panhandling that goes on in San Francisco is done by daytripping suburban teens dolled up in their gutterwear who are doing it for kicks and/or beer money.

maybe in the haight. I never see them. the people I see are down and out.

in short, if homelessness went up 36% last year, I'd say it's just a continuation of the insane housing market in the entire area.
posted by rebeccablood at 10:20 AM on January 8, 2002

You're right. I'm sorry. They [the Salvation Army] just want to discriminate during the hiring process.

Even that does an injustice to the Salvation Army's position. They're a church. Having the government force them to hire someone who doesn't follow their moral code would be like forcing an Orthodox synagogue to hire a rabbi who didn't keep kosher.
posted by straight at 10:23 AM on January 8, 2002

chaz: I don't know the solution and doubt there is a silver bullet; that shouldn't stop me from expressing disgust at a proposed law. I imagine the solution would first require that San Franciscans agree that this is a problem we want to solve as a city. That hasn't happened; just read the comments in this thread. All of the homelessness initiatives I linked to in the fpp address the problem by making it less visible, not less harmful. I think that approach is: (1) bound to win votes from people with property (hence the repetition of these ineffective ideas, and hence my comment about representative democracy); and (2) bound to fail in actually preventing homelessness. I find that trend horrifying.

jackiemcghee: yes.

MattD: you write, It is simply insane for homeless people to be in San Francisco... Well, yes, perhaps in part because many of them are insane; but maybe there's more to it than that. Maybe it makes more sense (economically) to panhandle in wealthy cities because there's a greater supply of money available to receive from panhandling. I'd hate to think panhandling in S.F. is economically rational compared with other choices, but maybe that's the case.
posted by precipice at 11:44 AM on January 8, 2002

rebeccablood, I live in the Bay Area. I know that people who work in SF don't have to live in SF. They can live in Oakland, Emeryville, South SF, etc. etc. etc...any number of places that is cheaper than SF and with BART and AC Transit, can easily commute to the city at all hours of the day and night.

Yes, there should be cheap housing in SF (and there is) but there's no way to build enough for for every single lower income person. I live in Oakland because I sure as hell don't want to spend so much of my hard earned money on a dumpy apartment in the city.

I just get sick of homeless advocates blaming everthing else under the sun for the homeless problem BUT the homeless people. They are more at fault than anything.
posted by aacheson at 11:45 AM on January 8, 2002

aacheson: my comment was intended to counter the notion that you have to try hard to become homeless; in the Bay area, I think it would be as easy as losing your job or your roommate, if your job isn't extravagantly overpaid.

I'll add that I find all areas of the bay area to be overpriced; east bay is affordable only in relation to san francisco proper. in most parts of the country housing simply doesn't cost this much. of course, silicon valley is just as bad.
posted by rebeccablood at 1:27 PM on January 8, 2002

maybe in the haight. I never see them. the people I see are down and out.
And Eureka Valley/Castro, Noe Valley, along several patches of Mission above Army, all down Market from 4th, and stretching up the next couple of blocks of Powell, all around Justin Herman Plaza... the list goes on. Don't be quite so dismissive of a trend noticed over several years. Just as much, don't read too much into my "sizable fraction."
in short, if homelessness went up 36% last year, I'd say it's just a continuation of the insane housing market in the entire area.
I'll gladly agree with you that it's a contributing factor -- I had to leave the city I spent my whole life in, and barely afford housing in the vastly cheaper "beautiful" East Oakland. But I would be careful before assuming a direct causal relationship between growth of the homeless population and the recent absurdity of rent prices. When someone's main problem is that they cannot afford housing, they go somewhere else.

I had to do that, and I have as much (or more, in my irrational native-born opinion) right to live in San Francisco as the next person.

Just a few years ago, rents in the City were profoundly cheap by comparison with today: $200 would get you in with roommates, $400 could keep you in almost any studio apartment in town, a measly $800 a month would land a roomy one bedroom in a trendy neighborhood, and twice that would put you into a classically San Franciscan 6-room victorian flat. For all that, the noisiest debate of the day was still over homelessness as it has been for well over a decade.

If I were looking for somewhere to point the finger, it would be first and foremost at those who cannot or will not take advantage of the many programs, both private and public, in place to help the homeless; then it would be necessary to turn around and point the finger right at those programs for failing -- for whatever reason -- exactly those people who need them the most.

What alternatives do I suggest, then? To the three so-called homeless vets I passed this morning: go to the VA, get a job. To the kid who was sitting on Market under the eTrade wall: your $700 in leather duds don't convey neediness to me in any way. To the guy who sits at the end of California shouting? He seems happy enough with his lot in life to keep at it for as long as I can remember, and doesn't need a damn thing from me.

There aren't any pat solutions here. For every truly homeless person, there is a different problem and a different way to solve it. There are most literally a million stories in this town.
posted by majick at 1:30 PM on January 8, 2002

I commute to San Francisco from Sonoma County (Russian River area) three days a week. By bus or ferry, it is a 20 minute walk to where I work on Folsom, near Moscone Center. I have been panhandled, assaulted, spit at, pissed at. I am no longer surprised to see a woman squatting and shitting in the middle of the sidewalk (4th St near Clementina), using a piece of the Chronicle to wipe herself.

There is a real and growing problem with homelessness in San Francisco, but the City isn't using its resources effectively. There is no single intake system for someone wanting a bed for the night, enrollment into a detox program, or any assistance to get a job. It is a badly worn patchwork of different agencies and organizations. There was an article in the SF Chronicle recently (wish I could find the links) about how New York City provides more comprehensive, better service for less cost for about the same number of homeless than San Francisco. Part of this is due to the legal requirement by state constitution that NYC has to do something. Part of it is due to having a central system to register and direct people to programs and assistance.
In SF, we have a few advocacy groups who don't even want to talk about this--the person's "right" to choose to be homeless overrides the public's right to walk the streets without having to step in shit.
posted by paddbear at 3:03 PM on January 8, 2002

The President is a Republican. Quick! Bring out the homeless!

As an aside, can we stop calling them homeless? They're shelterless. And, for the most part they don't want your offer of shelter neither. They're smart enough to know that "homeless" shelters are dangerous because they're full of "homeless"people.
posted by Real9 at 3:52 PM on January 8, 2002

I just get sick of homeless advocates blaming everthing else under the sun for the homeless problem BUT the homeless people. They are more at fault than anything.

It's often said "There but for the grace of G-d go I. . . " and in many cases, it's true. Imagine that you're a single person living in a city where you have little or no family and just a few friends. Now imagine that you develop schizophrenia. Your odd, unexplained behaviour costs you your job (or you walk away from it) and alienates you from your friends. You have no money, you are kicked out of your apartment - or walk away from it. You have only what you can carry, and are at the mercy of the voices in your head.

So now you're on the streets and the voices are relentless, but one night you are in a homeless camp and someone passes you a bottle, and you find out that when you drink, the voices get a bit quieter. So when you can, you drink, just to hold on to what little sanity you've got, and to keep yourself from taking a header off of the nearest bridge or pushing the nearest passing child into the path of traffic while in a rage caused by the inescapable turmoil in your brain. But booze costs money, and in your condition, there's only one way to get that money -- beg for it.

That's the reality for a lot of the people that are dismissed as lazy, disgusting, and a public eyesore. They are human beings in untenable, unbelievable circumstances and most are need of significant mental health/addiction help (whether they'll take it or not is another matter, it is unquestionable that they certainly could use it) and a little compassion would not be out of order.
posted by Dreama at 4:01 PM on January 8, 2002

The advocacy groups in SF don't want a centralized system to log homeless people as it infringes on their right to privacy. Pleeeease. When the homeless advocates here in SF and Berkeley do such a thing, they are doing such a disservice to the homeless. Not to mention turning people like me totally against them and make it so I will never agree with anything they advocate.

Dreama, that is a good story and certainly makes me think a little harder about my attitude. But I still can't stand them and their disgusting and repulsive habits. And I still blame them. I just can't believe that all those people are out there and really want help but don't have the mental capacity to seek it out. And if they don't seek it out, it tells me that it's because they find their lifestyle acceptable.
posted by aacheson at 4:53 PM on January 8, 2002

First things first: I live in the Haight-Ashbury with my family, which is one of the most popular homeless spots in the city. In fact, there are a couple guys with raggy clothes and overloaded shopping carts out there right now as I write this.

There's a big difference between people who are actually homeless, and the people who are just flat-out bums. I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of the homeless in The City really are down on their luck and have had every opportunity to get off the streets taken away from them. I'd bet that those types of people don't want to continue being homeless for the sheer fact that they attempt to help themselves, i.e. seeking shelters, finding work, making connections, and learning skills to get refuge.

...But there's far too many vagrants out there who are either burn-outs or junkies who refuse to clean themselves up, and they are the ones who are ruining it for all the rest of the homeless here who have real problems.

That said, I don't think arrests are the answer, but if someone refuses to comply with the request that they seek shelter, than they should have to answer to some consequences. This isn't a campground.
posted by Down10 at 5:40 PM on January 8, 2002

Having worked closely with (shudder...) Interfaith Council for the Homeless, I can tell you that the service providers are completely appalling.

1. They communicate with the various churches and temples by phone only. Nothing is ever written down, and this is used to their great advantage so that they can deny arrangments having been made at any time.

2. They seem to totally not care about the people whose lives they are entrusted with, or the religious communities they are interfacing with. For example, just this month, one of the homeless families was dropped off at our temple with the words "See you in three days." No one had told the temple or the family that they would be unable to get to work for three days. The woman (with several young children) almost lost her job because Interfaith didn't bother to tell anyone that their van driver was too lazy to stop by during the week. We had to schedule new volunteers to come in at all sorts of odd hours just to look after everyone.

3. They left a family alone on the streets for eight hours in 35-degree weather. This family had children as young as three. In 35-degree weather. And no one bothered to tell them where they could go to get a roof over their heads. Three years old. 35-degree weather. Eight hours.

4. And these were the well-off people. Heck, one of the women we took care of a few years ago was about as rich as we were. She'd been screwed over by her boyfriend and her landlord, and she'd ended up with $10,000 worth of posessions locked in self-storage and no apartment while the old owners of her new appartment refused to move out. Instant homeless.

And on a different note...

Remember that one third of the homeless are mentally ill. These are people who probably couldn't care for themselves in the best conditions, and certainly don't have the mental capacity to lift themselves out of the gutter. I understand that their actions are respulsive. But they are still human beings, and human beings with problems most of us can't even imagine. Have compassion.
posted by Ptrin at 6:36 PM on January 8, 2002

I think Dreama hit it right on the head in an earlier post. Most of the people who are sympathetic to the needs of the homeless claim them to be unable to help themselves yet we are prevented from forcing help upon them because one must respect their rights. To some extent I believe that anyone unable to care for themselves should be treated like a minor. If you are mentally ill and you cannot take care of yourself, you should be hospitalized in a respectable manner for as long as your remain in such a condition. If you are priced out of the job market or fall on hard times, the government should have the right to take guardianship over you and even relocate you to areas with lower costs of living and more job opportunities if such actions are necessary. Now, I do think it should be volentary . . . up to a point. I'm not talking about rounding up people and putting them in labor camps or anything like that but if you prove unable to care for yourself, the state should be able to relocate you to . . . let's say Bakersfield and get you a job working in the orchards. They could provide housing, assistance, and encourage people who can get back on their feet to get back on their feet. Keeping someone in SF, a place with one of the highest costs of living not just in the country but the world, and expecting them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps does not seem to be logical. This would also reduce the overhead of agencies who struggle to house homeless people in downtown, high cost of living areas. Those extra funds could be used to provide higher quality assistance.

Now, all that said, there are groups of people who choose to be homeless and revel in it. I live near Santa Monica, Ca. (oddly enough, another place with rent controls -- until just recently -- and commonly referred to as the Socialist Republic of Santa Monica due to many of the ultra-liberal laws on the books) and I have seen some of the same people panhandling on the 3rd Street Promanade for at least 10 years. Same people. They sit on the benches in the shopping area and smoke cigarettes and hold out their signs asking for money as groups of 4 or 5 of them chat. One guy has a sign that says "I'm not going to lie to you, I need a beer." Some parts of the Promonade are gathering areas for as many as 20 or so teenagers with spiked hair, multiple body piercings and tattoos running up and down their arms. They are usually very aggressive in their panhandling and one can only assume by the fact that they have enough money to purchase hair dye, tattoos and 50 earnings, they are doing this for kicks. Those people I would have no problem arresting for panhandling. In fact, I would even consider supporting prosecuting anybody who panhandles under the guise of being able to buy a meal and then purchases alcohol or drugs as a case of fraud.

See the problem is, people do want to help people. It's a matter of trying to distinguish between who needs help and who's abusing the system. It's also a matter of continuing to do the same things which have proven not to work or attempting new ideas that have sound economic and fiscal realities. The US government spends $40,000 a year to provide assistance to each family living under the poverty level. I'll say that again: $40,000 a year, to help each family living under the povertly level. Now, I don't think it takes a financial wizard to figure out that if the government simply cut checks to every family living under the poverty level, you could solve poverty tomorrow (plus taxpayers would get a nice little rebate). Whenever you have a problem that the government thinks can be solved with more money, there's a pretty good chance that most of the money will end up further bloating the government without doing anything to help the intended recipients of the assistance. So the first step we have to take to help the homeless is to dismantle all of the federal, state, and local government agencies who are in charge of helping the homeless and get more of that money to the street level where it can do the most good.
posted by billman at 8:02 PM on January 8, 2002

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