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EDITORIAL: War on homeless hurts trust in San Francisco

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Asisi Lazzaarius, (left) and Alphonso Gasdebum sit in the Powell BART station on Thursday, April 14. BART is planning to partner with homeless outreach organizations in The City to provide resources to those who sleep in the underground BART and Muni stations. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The homeless have long been a part of San Francisco BART stations. Homeless people, sleeping or sitting among their belongings on the white floors of the downtown stations are no doubt a nuisance or eyesore to some commuters and tourists, but for the most part they are unobtrusive. The stations offer a bit of peace from the streets and an escape from the weather for those with nowhere to go, and, for the most part, BART authorities seem content, or at least willing, to let them be.

This policy of benign neglect might soon end.

As the San Francisco Examiner reported last week, BART is looking to partner with The City to bring homeless people out of BART stations and into city services.

The big question is whether this effort to bring the homeless out of the stations would be accomplished with helping hands or a firm push.

The City’s relationship with its homeless, always a vexed issue,
has taken on more complex and troubling dimensions in recent months. The recent litany is long and alarming: Mayor Ed Lee’s vow to clear Market Street of homeless during Super Bowl week; the sweep of a large homeless encampment on Division Street last month; and another last week on Shotwell Street, following San Francisco police shooting and killing a homeless man in an incident that still hasn’t been fully explained or adequately investigated.

Last week, Lee called to end all encampments in The City. Supervisor John Avalos countered the mayor’s tough approach by proposing more humane rules for shutting down encampment, such as making sure a path to housing was available before breaking down a camp. But the Mayor’s Office quickly shot down the idea as unworkable.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on the Homeless, says this recent aggression against the homeless has been particularly brutal.

In an op-ed in today’s Examiner, she writes, “The voices of those forced to live on our streets have been nearly eliminated from the discussions currently before elected officials today. Instead, we hear top officials shouting for a failed policy that will lead us nowhere.”

Amid this mounting pressure on the homeless comes this plan to address homeless people in BART stations.

For BART, the plan is to bring in The City’s Homeless Outreach Team into stations to engage homeless people and help them establish care and permanent housing.

BART directors on Thursday discussed a $50,000 request to fund the partnership, with the budget set for June approval.

Right now, just one person, Armando Sandoval, BART’s community outreach coordinator, is dedicated to helping the homeless throughout the system. As a result, BART’s police officers are the ones engaged in homeless outreach by default, Sandoval told the Examiner. By integrating The City’s homeless services, more people who need shelter and services can find them.

That’s the hope, at least.

Sam Dodge, head of Mayor Lee’s homeless office, told the Examiner, “We have people in need down in the BART stations, while BART is open, but when BART is closed, they’re coming back into the streets.”

In 2014, BART started a campaign to ticket and expel homeless in the system, citing a threat to crowd safety. So is this new effort a sign of a more humane approach?

Specifics are yet to come, and the details, we all know, is where the devil resides. He can also lurk in motives, and it’s unclear at this point where the impetus for this effort lies: Is it really to help the homeless or merely to clean out the stations?

Lee’s administration no longer has the benefit of the doubt regarding its intentions in how it handles The City’s 6,000 souls who live on its streets without a home.

San Francisco has a lot of work to do if it intends to win back the trust of those who sleep on the streets and the advocates who fight for their well-being.

Michael Howerton is the editor in chief of the San Francisco Examiner.

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  • John O’Grady

    War On the Homeless? War? Please…

  • Mitchell

    “Win back the trust of those who sleep on the streets”?


  • EvilTed

    Please come to The Mission and step around the discarded needles and syringes that lay everywhere. There is a marked difference between the homeless of old and this new breed of younger, meth-addicted, bike-chopping, thieving “tenties” that are both a blight to the neighborhoods they infest and a health hazard to the places they leave. The grease and stains on the pavements are so bad they cannot even power-wash them away. I am glad that Mayor Lee has finally started dealing with this problem.

  • Rick

    Twitter and all those other tech firms that just magnified the homeless issue, along with property owners that mass evicted many working families should pony up the bill for housing these folks. Unreal that responsible working class families get thrown into the streets and it’s called “progress” ?
    SF was known as the most beautiful city in the world, LONG before Twitter and Sales Force arrived in the scene, talk about disruptive technology. And funny thing is, these white masters of the universe are stupid enough to pay $4000 for a 1 room apartment in SF, no sign of intelligence there. Just a bunch of over paid geeks.

  • stanho

    Michael Howerton, what is wrong with you? The homeless (aka bums) are “unobtrusive”? Really? What kind of world do you want to live? Degraded, smelling of urine and feces blight? The problem starts with tolerance for another “lifestyles”. Enough of that nonsense!

  • John

    “these white masters of the universe ”

    Today’s radicals no longer hide their racism.

  • Rick

    When they run out of Homeless, Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, Vietnamese, American Indians, to hate and to purge from the US, who will be left for them to hate ?
    Every basket has its bad apple, in this case it’s not the red one, or the green one, could it be….wait for it….wait for it…

  • FuzzmanX

    Face it. You can’t keep up. Hater’s gonna hate. Maybe if you woud finish college?

  • FuzzmanX

    Y O U

  • 101

    They are unobtrusive? So when I go down the Civic Center Bart station, I can smell there is a homeless person there before I see them. Some are sprawled out on the floor that you need to walk around them. This is a stain and embarrassment to all visitors to the City.

  • 101

    These people also go to local restaurants, grocery stores and take Muni that support all the workers at these jobs. But then again, you should know because you are probably one of them.

  • Foginacan

    “The homeless have long been a part of San Francisco BART stations. ”

    No they haven’t, Michael…and not like this.

    You’re the Editor in Chief? There’s a real story here to uncover, for a journalist actually familiar with San Francisco. Instead you just exposed yourself.

  • Bill Harkins

    This Jennifer Friedenbach propaganda and press is ridiculous. Ms Friedenbach and her malcontented anti capitalists, anti prison, occupy anything “organization” is doing nothing to help homeless that want/need/deserve help. The Coalition on the Homeless along with Jane Kim wants to close prisons and allow people to camp on the streets not end homelessness. I read one article trying to garner sympathy for Ms Friedenbach because she only makes $60,000 a year, seems pretty good money to further one’s own goals that are against what clearly the majority of SF citizens want. SF voted against sit/lie years ago and shortly after this group started recruiting ex cons to live on the streets and invade vacant buildings creating this mess today. Ms Friedenbach your work is reprehensible and not worth 6 cents let alone $60,000. Go away.

  • Bill Wright

    We’ve tried 40 years of coddling the homeless, and the problem has only gotten worse. The city’s homeless industry is not interested in solving the problem, they only want to perpetuate their cushy, city jobs. Time to push all the homeless out. If one can’t afford to live here, then move to Iowa, where housing is cheap.

  • Rick

    LOL, actually no. I live in Sausalito, own more RE here than most, at 1980s prices and have 2 degrees and have helped to build virtually almost every major modern project in SF bay area. For what? For One type of person to act like it all belongs to them? Really? Those workers had their homes and their jobs long before the last 10 years changed the soul of this soul less city SF People came here for what they found here. Not for what it has become today. Ask anybody that grew up here. They’d rather have the past than what appears like the future. Kids cant even play soccer at the field anymore without some techy group “reserving” the field every weekend. Along time ago whites wouldnt step foot in the Ghetto, Not East Palo Alto, East San Jose or the Mission. Now they act like its heaven on earth and “they discovered it” No, Im not serving your coffee or bagging your organic vegis. The difference between a “Hippie and a Hipster” Hippies would fight for peoples rights, Hipsters would erode them.
    Welcome to the world your creating, it wont be half as great as the one ive enjoyed.

  • Rick

    “The White one”
    Kick the hornets nest long enough, go home crying to mommy for getting stung.

  • John

    This guy is a racist scumbag. Suddenly its fashionable again to be racist.

  • WestCoastPolack

    Excuse me, but Jennifer Friedenbach has the gall to accuse others of “a failed policy that will lead us nowhere.” Ms. Friedenbach, how many years have you been at the Coalition on Homelessness? Around twenty, correct? And have your efforts made the homeless challenge better or worse? Look on our streets for the answer. It’s time for you to admit that you’ve failed, then resign and let someone of a less-ideologically calcified mind take over.

  • Rick

    Maybe we should just take them all to the humane society and gas them, like in the concentration camps. Didnt Hitler try to eradicate all of the undesirables? Whats the difference? Everybody says get rid of them, they have no place to go. So kill em, all of them. But dont blame the Hitlers of the world anymore for being genocidal or crimes against humanity. Its a crime against humanity if you cant love humanity and treat each other like brothers. So go ahead kill em all. Grind em up and feed them to your pets. eventually, most techy will get laid off as well, go homeless and we can put another batch into the gas chambers and meat grinders

  • Rick

    what do you do, load them onto a bus, drive them out to the desert hand them a bottle of water and say good luck to you sir, but society has deemed you unfit for participation on planet earth?

  • WestCoastPolack

    You’ve fallen into the illogical and ideological trap of lumping all street dwellers into one homogeneous group. They are not “them.” Some are good folks down on their luck, some are mentally ill unfortunates who need to be taken — against their will, if necessary — into treatment before they hurt themselves or others, some are addicts in need of treatment, some are lazy bums, some are criminals, some are simply lost souls in need of a sympathetic ear — street dwellers are individuals in need of individual responses: support, treatment, counseling, or jail.

  • Rick

    i was hoping to be obviously ridiculously sarcastic, of course they have individual needs, and ive been an avid supporter of wanting to full fill those needs, im just responding to the heart less ignorants here that seem to think sweeping them up and taking them to home lesss town nirvana is the answer. It IS ridiculous that even working families have become homeless because land lords want to squeeze the last drop of blood from tech workers so they evict long term tenants. Home less, does not equate to loser, or drug addict or mentally ill. Anyways, its exhausting when most are just out for themselves and wouldnt bat and eye seeing a dead person that froze to death on their way to starbucks for their morning coffee. unreal…

  • Rick

    ive been to the mission, and have paid $90 for a “tasting”, saw no needles, saw no bumbs, saw night clubs closing down that were there many years, saw no hispanics, saw many whites, so no crap on the streets, saw no shopping carts filled with aluminum cans, you must be hanging out in the alleys, under the bridges or in the dumpster, of youll find homeless there for sure, they are not welcome any where, so they go where they will be left alone. when the world kicks and kicks and kicks you down, youll stick a needle in your arm to just to cope and numb the pain of the hurt society has inflicted upon you, people get down and cant get back up, it happens to almost everybody, but some worse then others, then they cope, they get high, they get higher, they get sick and sicker, they get beat, beat up beat down, arrested and spit on, then a nother shot of heroin to humb the pain, and another and another. all it takes to become homeless?
    Try, having a bachelors degree, cant find a job, at the wrong place at the wrong time, long enough to lose your rental, lose that, lose your car too, lose that lose your friends support, lose that get homeless, start coping doing drugs drinking etc….youd be surprised how many homeless people are brilliant, but cast away for their skin color or their beliefs or not having the right degree. it can and will and does, happen to any one at any time.

  • WestCoastPolack

    All good, Rick — but do you agree that some “homeless” are not innocents, but instead bums, criminals, and/or parasites? If we as a society can’t agree that some street dwellers are victims and some are victimizers, we’ll never accept the reality of the street (I’ve been there, though years ago) and never be able to deal with the challenge on an individualized, rational, targeted basis, offering support while meeting out sanctions.

    And trust me, your characterization of techies as invariably heartless is both unnecessarily reductive and not helpful to the need for building coalitions of support.

  • Rick

    I’m over reacting because reacting constructively has gotten no where.
    Yes there are bumbs. Absolutly.
    Take me for instance. I lived in my car purposely two years in a row, so my son could have his support after my divorce. Owned large homes have great job but sacrificed want homeless so my X and son could have more.
    Not a single person supported my decision. Not 1.

    Yet, I’d be called a loser dead beat dad had I been selfhly taken care of my own needs.

    Got back on my feet and prospered.

    Never was ashamed never uncomfortable. Very at peace with myself.

    Actually landed a renowned Doctor GF who appreciated my Will Courage and Integrity of my decision to be homeless.

    Met many great smart healthy honest homeless people.

    Never met the hard core bad people, I don’t attract their energy.

    Sure they exist. But I don’t see waste not human waste in homeless people. I do see waste in successful ignorant people though.

    Big issue complex solutions. Not eradicating them like roachs.

  • EvilTed

    @Rick I live in The Mission. I have done for over 13 years. You have a clouded, romantic idea of what led these “brilliant” souls to slither down into their own private hells. I am not walking around in the alleys. I found a pile of 5 syringes with their little orange tips not 30 feet from my front door the other day. I have a 5 year old daughter that asks me about these items and why she should never touch them. When I was a child we were scared of the boogie man. She is scared of the homeless people that she can see from the windows of our ivory tower…

  • EvilTed

    @Rick Heartless? You need to live in the middle of the squalor they have created before you can throw words like heartless around. The problem is these “homeless” don’t want help. The break into local business, steal tips from the tables of local Mexican restaurants, steal tips from the 15 year old girls who staff the yoghurt and ice cream shop on Valencia. I caught one of them in the act and while bleeding heart liberals like you stood and watched him do it, I told him to put it back and almost got stabbed outside for my “goodwill”. Get off your high horse and realize that ordinary working families are sick and tired of this blight and as home owners and tax payers, we demand that Ed Lee does something about it. I’m glad he and the police are actually taking action to rid us all of this menace…

  • Bill Harkins

    I don’t have an answer to homelessness.

    Do feel “The Coalition on the Homeless” is not helping matters and should not be supported by anyone who is not anti prison and prefers sidewalks for walking not free camping.

    Ms Friedenbach has hired a professional public relations company to fool citizens into support for her organization under false pretenses. They don’t want to solve homelessness they want to legalize encampments statewide.

  • John

    These days the only outright hatred I see being spouted publicly is by radical liberals who feed off of a hatred of white people.

    Sure, there’s still lots of old white folks who categorically hate black people – but they are dying off.

    Instead of being replaced by a racially tolerant generation, we are instead raising a generation of anti-white racists.

  • Rick

    Canada says they solves the homeless issue and saved money doing it. By housing them first. And dealing with their deep issues second. FYI

  • Rick

    I sympathize with you as much as I sympathize with the homeless. How great it would be if as much energy was put into fighting corrupt banka that causes trillions of loss, destroy economies and families lives. Or fight against the US Gove for covering up 911 as stated on 60 minutes. The homeless issue is nothing compared to the real massive injustice to you, your child your country your life.

    You Can’t in prison every priest over a few molesters you can’t kill every Muslim over a few jihadi. You can’t hang every banker over Wallstreet yet you want to decide the fate of every one that can’t afford a 1bed apt in SF ?
    Americans are so quick to condemn. And I bet you call yourself Chirstian. Right ?

  • EvilTed

    No, actually I don’t and I am an immigrant to this country, so you are wrong there too.
    I’ve travelled all over the world and these scenes of poverty and soul destroying drug addiction are worse in America in 2016 than anywhere I’ve ever been and I spend a lot of time in developing countries. In those countries people are poor but they have self respect… These people are not the misplaced by gentrification that you claim. They are hard-core, drug-addicted gangs that have moved into San Francisco and choose to live on the street. They make a very good living stealing and selling. Do more research and you will find that there have been huge bicycle chop shops raided in these encampments. These are scum, not down-on-their-luck homeless as you remember it. I can sit and watch them selling drugs and selling bike parts from my living room window. I’m not making this shit up…

  • Rick

    Oh I believe you. That sounds like a gang or drug dealing problem. ?

    Every city faces the same issue. As long as I’ve been alive.

    The one single approach not taken, that worked for Canada and saved them money, was provide housing for all homeless first, deal with the drugs crime next.

    Great results but we, the people of the US, would faster hand trillions to bankers, trillions to wars, than take care of our own for a fraction of the cost.


  • peanutcrunch

    I don’t believe you’ve been to the mission recently.

  • peanutcrunch

    Fine, house them… but not in a city that can’t house those that can and are willing to pay… or perhaps across the street from where you live?

  • peanutcrunch

    coo-coo, coo-coo, coo-coo

  • Rick

    I can show you my $400 dinner for 3 reciepts. Insane what “gentrification” economics will do to a city.

  • Rick

    Hell, we have 3 extra rooms I’d love to rent out, thats just in the house we occupy below market rates! But the wife won’t have it. She doesn’t need the money, and she doesn’t have the same amount of compassion as I do, cept she is doctor professionally. But her own brother died in the Tenderloin of an OD. So she is jaded about homeless issues. Not her fault.

    But, this is an issue that everybody has contributed to. Much like the natural environment. We alter nature and suffer the imbalances later.

    We alter communities and suffer from the impact.

    If people don’t like living among the homeless and drug dealers. Who on earth move into that community ?

    I wouldnt. But that does not mean that I do not do my own part in helping those in need. Sure many are drug abusing derelicts and many are not.

    There are bigger issues that should really make people angry. Kicking the poor while they are down doesn’t say much.

  • j p

    “…housing them first…we have 3 extra rooms” Put your money where your mouth is, Rick. Put 3 homeless people in your home and set them on the road to recovery. Please come down from your ivory tower and $400 dinners and come into reality.

  • Rick

    I agree 100%.
    I would at least 1. Maybe 2.
    But the wife would never allow it.

    She won’t even rent the rooms out. She could easily get $1500 per room.
    We do not agree on this subject. She has her reasons I have mine.
    But you are right we have plenty of room and don’t need that rent money at all. But our politics are polar opposites. On that subject.

    While she does donate and support many causes. She would never feel safe with anybody in her home..anybody.

  • Randy F.

    You are thinking of North Beach in the early-mid 1950’s…. again . The Mission was once Irish , with men working at S F Drydock ( Bethlehem Steel ) building ships and girders-pieces for bridges . Now it’s much better , for techie hipsters…

  • Randy F.

    You place them on ocean going barges , tow them out to sea and then torpedo them.. Most all of them have worked very hard to get to where they are at today..

  • BFlatlander

    Yep. Two drunken POS’s smoking in the BART station. I really feel for them.

  • SciLaw

    Get a clue, feel free to walk down Shotwell or Treat Street from 15th down to 24th. Also feel free to read Mission Local for the weekly crime statistics in the Mission. Maybe get off of Valencia as well, you seem to be the kind of person that you despise with your fancy dinners.

  • SciLaw

    So you live in a 4 bedroom house in SF, you go to fancy meals in the Mission, you somehow miss out on all the tents east of Van Ness but you have “street cred”? Wow, delusional…..

  • Rick

    I don’t despise anybody. Just making an observation. Been on both sides of the tracks. Feel safer among the criminals knowing exactly what the rules are. Than amongst the elite that perfect white collar crime that takes a far bigger toll on humanity than a bunch of destitute homeless people.

    The homeless are an easy target. Try taking on the banks. The feds. The Gov. And stand up for your rights instead of beating down those who could use a little love for once in their miserable lives.


    American Indian Movement.

    I speak with a history of authority on the matter.

  • Rick

    One thing I am not doing. Is to partake on a Witch Hunt. Homeless are every where. Drugs. Etc…
    But the popular theme in White America is blame the Mexican drug cartels. And take no responsibility for the massive consumption of drugs which fuels the violence and the crime.

    Homelessness dosent happen by choice. Get a clue.

    It’s a huge issue that nothing less than compassion can solve.

    Try focusing on the real criminals that do the entire country population a disservice. Instead of the easy target of the month.

    There us much bigger crime. Than a petty l
    Thief selling dope in SF.

  • Rick

    No, I actually live in a 4 bd house in Sausalito, not SF. Ive been homeless myself, purposely actually, so i could pay my child support and save money for kids college education, pay for his tutors music lessons flights to visit etc…..finally got back on my feet, bought a house. Then moved in with GF in Sausalito. Have been jumped into a gang in East LA called White Fence in 1976, survived that, went back to school, hit good times and hard times. never once gave up on myself. Needed a hand up a few times never a hand out. Made good on all my promises and goals and have great kids that think im the best dad in the world. Lived in East San Jose for many years, did the gang banger thing there too. Always smart enough to never get caught or do unnecessary harm to innocents. Never stole a thing in my life. Have owned several $Million homes and have sold them. Would rather walk into a dive bar than trust a suit and tie guy.
    Bring cash when im in SF cause i have a personal promise to give what ever is in my pocket to the first person that asks for help, so if its $100 or $1000 thats what they get. if its $5 thats what they get. If nobody asks then ill leave it by a sleeping bumb. Bottom line is, all it takes is a hand up. Not a hand out to change some ones life. Just one single act of kindness. Sure many maybe most are idiots beyond help. When I lived in my car, i was proud of my decision, I knew my kid was getting a life he deserved and I knew God would bless me for being a good father. 2 years later in my own home again and a year after that living in a palace in Sausalito rent free. So before you go rolling a bumb sleeping in his car or judging some one that isnt successful. Think twice about how they got there, be glad its not you or yours. Kids just as easily run away from wealthy homes and end up on the streets. Not everybody buys into the capitalistic society, who wants to volunteer for slavery anyways?
    When its all said and done, the one who has the lowest cost of living is the free est man on earth.
    Street Cred?
    Whats that? Who doles it out?
    Born and raised in the Varrio, survived it and have no problem walking the hood again.

  • runnz63

    I live in Hayes Valley and despise the homeless of this city. The vast majority are alcoholics and drug addicts. Allowing them to live on the street is the least compassionate thing to do.

  • Rick

    In a perfect world I’d be the one who founded some social start up. Be worth $50 Billion. And gladly give $25Bill. To build housing. Education. Mental health. Rehab. Skilled trade schools.
    I’m sure the money would be well spent.
    To qualify smell like piss. Prove some plastic bottle scavaging skills and be hated by main stream society.
    But reality is, those with billions just hoard it. Make even more. Hoard Even more.

    But do little to support real honest change from the bottom up.

    I have zero respect for the ones lucky enough to have landed such a windfall. Yet are so stingy they think they have changed the world. Yes they did change it, to suit them even more and to profit even more but what exactly do we need more of?

    Billionaires ?

    More tech ?

    We jump right over what really matters and create shit we could live without

  • Mayoral Debates

    This article and many like it talk about the 6000 like it’s the same 6000 for the last 10 years. Put this 6000 up at 4 star hotels and the next 10000 will come. Better yet put 50 of them up at Friedenshits house

  • BFlatlander

    Why are you lying to strangers?