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November ballot measures incite class hatred in San Francisco

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David Martinez sits in his tent while San Francisco police officers respond to a complaint regarding Martinez’s tent encampment at Folsom and 17th streets on Sept. 8. (Dan Chambers/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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With a stinky pile of initiatives on the San Francisco ballot this November, two particularly crappy ones sit on top.

Proposition Q, the tent ban, and Proposition R, police set-asides, have something for everyone to hate. The list of opponents, all of whom have different reasons to hate on them, keeps growing. But the hate doesn’t stop there: Proponents of the measures are spreading their message of class hatred to the masses. Homeless advocates believe anti-homeless propaganda leveled in elections create the conditions that result in homeless people being the victims of hate crimes.

The results can be deadly. Last week, a housing-challenged man was yelling in the street, and before help could come, he was pummeled in the face with pellets from a paintball gun. They almost took out his eye, and he likely suffered brain damage.

Prop. Q, a silly measure only on the ballot to put money in the bank for politicians and earn name-recognition at the polls, relies on the tried and true fundamental of American democracy: scapegoating. Muslims, “welfare queens,” gays and immigrants have all suffered as a result — victims of ambition thrown under the bus to serve as political wedges.

For the past three decades in San Francisco, the go-to demon has been homeless people. They create a perfect shield — the population is overrepresented by queers, blacks, immigrants and people with disabilities — but somehow very few make the connection that when you hate on homeless people, you are hating on people of color, queers and people with disabilities.

This political mine may be running out of gold, however. Prop. Q and Prop. R could finally be the ones that halt the tradition of politicians getting ahead by using homeless people as launching pads. Supervisor Scott Wiener had been sending out mailers scaring Westside voters that SUpervisor Jane Kim will bring tents to their front doors. He seemingly has been forced to change tracts after losing to Kim in the primaries. Proponents of Prop. Q and Prop. R are flattened by any intelligent questions at community forums and they are not getting endorsements from even their closest allies.

There are a couple of things happening here. First, we have been down this road to nowhere before. The sit-lie initative passed, and homelessness only increased. Tents are already illegal under state and local laws. Folks are getting tired of politicians banking on a “Brexit” vote by putting forth a sham policy that only serves political gain and banks on the frustration of voters. Also, more San Franciscans then ever before are relating personally to homelessness. They are scared of getting evicted and cannot imagine how they would find a place they could afford if they did.

Prop. Q is dissatisfying everyone, because no matter where folks are coming from, there is something to hate.

Folks who just want tents to disappear know that won’t happen, because giving someone a 24-hour warning to move will make them do just that, move a half a block away until they receive the next 24-hour notice, at which time they will move back again. Those who just want their sidewalks cleaned see that regular cleaning cannot happen because of the 24-hour notice.

Others who love the idea of “housing not tents” are bitterly disappointed that there is not housing in there. Voters who want people to move into shelter find that shelters have a six-week wait list. This measure only offers one night in shelter for those beds whose occupants missed curfew and will force others out on the streets as The City must hold those beds empty for potential campers coming after 24 hours.

Prop. R has former Police Chief Anthony Ribera and retired Cmmdr. Richard Correia, alongside Supervisor John Avalos, up in arms because it micromanages police and pulls police out of neighborhood stations despite its “neighborhood policing” name. It also permanently renders police to responding to homeless encampments — something they are already doing that costs The City $20.6 million and has no effect, because impoverished people have nowhere to go.

While these initiatives will certainly exacerbate homelessness if passed, they will have another more malevolent effect regardless of the outcome in November. They rely on fanning the flames of fear, which spurs more hate crimes against homeless people. Every time anti-homeless measures appear on the ballot, antidotal evidence suggests that more homeless people are targeted because of their economic status. While most of these attacks go unreported, those of us working on these issues see their bloodied faces. More often then not, they get kicked and beaten while sleeping. Women are particularly vulnerable to attacks. The propaganda fielded against the destitute serves to dehumanize them, creating an “otherness” different from the rest of San Francisco. The campaigns today use words that are meant to incite fear: “unhealthy,” “dangerous,” “harbor criminal activity” and “rape.” They serve to feed into voters’ frustrations while assuaging guilt by giving false promises of housing and shelter.

Only housing can solve homelessness. Luckily, there are a few measures on the ballot that will create the funding needed to do just that: Proposition S sets aside $17 million in funding for housing for homeless families, and Propositions J and K add another $50 million for homeless housing. On the other hand, the two anti-homeless measures — Prop. Q and Prop. R — may have something for everyone to hate, but the real hate they incite is class hatred.

That, my friends, is not a notion San Francisco should value.

Jennifer Friedenbach is the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

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