"Homelessness, and quality of life issues, are dividing the liberals and the progressives ........."
"We go out to drive the kids to school," ........."and there's human poop between the cars."
'Enough is enough,' S.F. says of homeless
Residents of a famously liberal city appear to be changing views.....
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
San Francisco - the liberal, left-coast city conservatives love to mock - could be undergoing a transformation when it comes to homeless people. Although the city would still be a poor choice for a pep rally for the war in Iraq, indications are that residents have had it with aggressive panhandlers, street squatters and drug users.
"Maybe there has been an epiphany," says David Latterman, president of Fall Line Analytics, a local market research firm. "People have realized they can hate George Bush but still not want people crapping in their doorway."
Consider the case of David Kiely, who has lived in the South of Market area for 18 years. He bought a home when prices were low and now lives there with his wife, Jenny, and their three boys, ages 7, 4 and 1. Kiely insists "we're not some white, yuppie parents saying we can't take this." In fact, he says, they donate to programs for homeless people at Glide Memorial Methodist Church and the food bank at St. Anthony Dining Room. But he's finally saying "enough is enough."
"I don't expect it to be Cow Hollow or Pacific Heights," he says. "But the other day Jenny is bringing the kids back from the park, and some guy is standing on the corner throwing up on himself."
Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco's Human Services Agency, is at ground zero for homelessness concerns. He's heard it from local residents at meetings, he's read the polls, and he noted the huge response to Chronicle columns about the homeless people and intravenous drug users in Golden Gate park. Like others, he thinks there's been a change in the way San Franciscans think the homelessness problem should be approached.
"I don't think this is a conservative or liberal thing," he says. "This is quality of life for everyone. What research has shown and what we have seen from visits to cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland and New York is that you need to combine good social outreach with law enforcement."
That means something more than an offer of help, which often is declined anyhow. (One city official estimated that nine out of 10 say they are not interested in a shelter or housing when approached.)
"Maybe," Rhorer says, "you just need a guy with a badge standing over them and saying, you can't stay there any more."
That's tough talk for a city that's been known as a friendly place for those down on their luck. And in previous years it would have been a political non-starter. When Mayor Frank Jordan tried to push homeless people off the street with his "Matrix" program, the crackdown got much of the blame for his failure to win a second term.
But this has the feel of a new day in San Francisco.
"Homelessness, and quality of life issues, are dividing the liberals and the progressives in this city," says David Binder, a statistical analyst and founder of David Binder Research. "The liberals will say we've got to get tough on the homeless and the progressives are more old-line liberal."
How that debate will come out is anyone's guess, but it is hard to disagree with Latterman's blunt assessment, which is, "People are just pissed. For the first time, even the left is saying they've had enough."
In an informal poll by SFGate.com, 90 percent of respondents said Mayor Gavin Newsom's crackdown South of Market was a great idea.
Latterman points to the neighborhood uprising in the Haight when it was proposed that a needle exchange program be moved to the Hamilton Methodist Church. When some 200 residents showed up, mostly to protest the idea, it was shelved.
"One sample doesn't make a trend, but it is telling," says Latterman. "C'mon, they live in the upper Haight. They're liberal by definition."
But they are also, in many cases, homeowners and thus have a sense of ownership and emotional investment. That's another part of what has caused this sea change in thinking. From TIC (tenants in common) units, to condominiums, to luxury townhouses, the city has created the potential for an influx of buyers, despite the downward trend in home sales in much of the country.
Cathy Pickering, assistant project manager for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, suggests a look to South of Market, which is within Newsom's pilot program to issue citations to vagrants on the sidewalks and streets. What once was an area of old warehouses now is booming.
"As you travel around South of Market," she says, "there is no doubt there has been a huge increase in residents."
Some of them are young couples, able to buy into their first home. And some might be empty nesters who have sold their home in the suburbs, following the national trend and moving to an urban center. But either way, they can understand the objections of a father like Kiely.
"We go out to drive the kids to school," he says, "and there's human poop between the cars."
There must be many who are as fed up as Kiely, because politicians like Newsom are taking a tough stand. In an election year, you can bet he wouldn't go out on an unpopular limb. Now it will be interesting to see how the Board of Supervisors, traditionally progressive and more pro-homeless people, will react.
One proposal that could come from the Newsom administration is some form of a "sit-lie" law. Rhorer says the idea is "that you can't be in the same place on the sidewalk for longer than a certain time." (Even Berkeley has a version of that for Telegraph Avenue.) That would create howls of protests from the advocates for homeless people (and it should be said that such laws have had mixed success), but usual arguments against strong action against vagrants might not be as effective with the new mind-set of city residents.
"This isn't the war in the Iraq," says Latterman. "We've been fed that line for a long time. If you support this, you're a Bush supporter. You're a fascist. Maybe people are fed up with that."
Sound off: Have something to say on this story? Call (415) 777-6268 to comment for an Open Mic podcast on sfgate.com.
How you can help
-- To volunteer to help provide services to the homeless, call Project Homeless Connect: (415) 255-3908.
-- To contact authorities about specific problems related to vagrancy and the behavior of a homeless person, call the city's services hot line: 311.
C.W. Nevius' column appears on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. His blog C.W. Nevius.blog can be found at sfgate.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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