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Supervisor Farrell builds a wall to nowhere

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(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)


According to the recent On Guard column, the 9,000 Know-Nothings who voted for Donald Trump in June were concentrated in the Marina. It’s no surprise then that their supervisor proposed the local equivalent of building a wall on the Mexican border: Supervisor Mark Farrell, with support from supervisors Malia Cohen, Scott Wiener and Katy Tang, introduced a ballot measure to empower police to clear homeless encampments, which they were already doing.

The same four supervisors put a measure on the ballot sponsored by Supervisor Wiener to create a new police unit to crack down on “neighborhood crimes” like burglaries and homelessness.

What the Chronicle described as a “fractured” board is merely the indignity of Wiener being in the minority for the first time in his political career. The four supervisors sponsoring these measures serve as the Realtor Caucus of the board, and since they don’t like losing to the Progressive Caucus, they suddenly remembered to be temporarily outraged about homelessness.

You can recognize a wedge issue when the underlying problem is emotional, polarizing and intractable, but the proposed solution is unmoored from reason, evidence or history. Homelessness, just like gay marriage and the war on drugs, works well politically because it’s a problem that doesn’t get solved.

As the T-shirt slogan says, it takes the staggering overconfidence of a mediocre white man to introduce such legislation less than a month after the May report of the Budget and Legislative Analyst Office that The City squanders $20 million a year on police enforcement of such “quality-of-life” laws on homeless people with no discernible positive outcome for anyone. No change in the number of homeless people.

There was also the Budget and Legislative Analyst Office report that Farrell himself requested that showed how much money The City saves on health care by providing supportive housing to the homeless. My wife is a Department of Public Health clinician who worked for years in city supportive housing clinics. She tells me that guns, tasers and batons are contraindicated for homeless patients.

Policing hasn’t worked to reduce homelessness in San Francisco any of the many times over my life that politicians declared that voters had enough and wanted to see action. It just wastes taxpayers’ money and abuses homeless people. It is as helpful as sending thoughts and prayers.

Never mind that the SFPD as we know it, the one refusing to reform or even acknowledge its habit of murdering people, may not be the best first responders to people in crisis.

Yet we can’t get enough of finding new ways to keep criminalizing the same behavior. Farrell and Wiener want more policing of the homeless, even though The City passed sit-lie in 2010, which was supposed to solve this problem. It was both unconstitutional, selectively-enforced and didn’t work, as expected. In 2013, Wiener wanted to create hours of operation for city parks, even though camping in parks was already illegal. That hearing featured a fascinating debate on the subtle legal distinction between “sleeping in a park” and “being in a park while sleeping.” And in the May report, the Budget and Legislative Analyst Office identified THIRTY-SIX quality-of-life laws that are enforced by the police on homeless people. San Francisco has one anti-homeless quality-of-life law for each chamber of the Wu-Tang Clan.


In other news, we need more comedy venues in town, because we’ve lost several, most tragically the Cynic Cave. There are a lot of comics coming up who want to produce their own shows. If you have a back room anywhere you would let comedians produce free or cheap shows, let me know.

Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer. Send your suggestions for comedy venues via www.natogreen.com or @natogreen.

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  • Lives Lightly

    Why do people continue to support using force to harass homeless people? Because they believe homelessness is a choice therefore homeless people are morally deficient and merit criminal sanction, and inflicting pain is a way to change people’s decision making. There is also a long religious tradition that inflicting pain is a responsible positive method, as in “spare the rod and spoil the child”

    The thing is that there is evidence that inflicting pain can affect future decision making when decisions are based on clear choices. But there is also evidence pain is largely ineffective to reduce homelessness.

  • sfsoma

    So wasting hundreds of millions a year on ineffective “not for profit” scam agencies that help no one is better? Unless you have a solution to offer keep your silly opinion to yourself. We can’t continue with things as they are, it is hurtful to the people on the street and the people who have to work so hard to try and afford a roof over their heads in the failing city.

  • Derek DeHaan

    What is so silly about showing the homeless some compassion and putting a roof over their heads? Maybe if we didn’t live in a nation of narcissists something would get done. But for now all most folks want to do is have somebody else participate in the solution as their too busy with manicures and shopping for shoes to think about a large part of our citizens here that may not have any.

  • Martin

    Yet another Examiner comedian of little or no importance whatsoever offering no solutions but instead ridiculing those who might actually be trying to find an answer. Allowing the homeless to sleep on the streets, drink themselves to death and smoke crack in SRO’s helps no one. It’s like the all the deaths per year because shumcks like Green believe “harm reduction” is helping addicts.

  • sffoghorn

    Isn’t Nato Green a San Francisco-based SEIU 1021 consultant and landlord?

    The reason why there have been no progressive alternatives to neoliberal demonization of the homeless is because the progressive nonprofit corhort and their sympathetic elected officials have no idea on what policies could be changed to change how homeless loos on the streets.

    All they’ve got are reactions after the fact to how the conservatives beat the political piñata of homelessness. The conservatives take initiatives, the progressives respond with reaction. This puts the conservatives in a position of being able to set the terms of the engagement favorably to themselves, and commands the progressives to react on cue in ways that hurt the homeless politically.

    Where were Avalos and Campos on this when the tents were accumulating under Division in the three years leading up to the Superbowl party? The issue was not an issue until it became a media issue. But for the homeless and residents of SOMA and the North Mission, it had become an increasingly difficult issue long before. We did not see any proactive political action, just reaction after the fact, after the political initiative had been seized by conservatives.

    The progressive case on homelessness is not wrong. People are simply over having to clean up after a difficult population when the City, DPW, clearly has abdicated that role. So given “do nothing” but feel guilty about doing nothing, voters will take a symbolic step to do something, anything now. Rarely is that a good idea to move any agenda, but the Catholic guilt trip activism doesn’t help homeless people either.

    Farrell does not share my politics. But when Kawa and the other intellectual authors of Aggressive Panhandling, Care not Cash, they are not mediocre by any measure. They are shrewdly intervening in politics in ways that force their opponents to take positions that are unpopular with the voters. This is called playing a long game to win and is foreign to the public-sector dependent sinecure nonprofits and public sector unions.

  • EssEffOak

    “We can’t continue with things as they are, it is hurtful to the people on the street and the people who have to work so hard to try and afford a roof over their heads in the failing city.”

    Yes, but adding one more law that criminalizes homelessness on top of the existing THIRTY-SIX laws that criminalizes homelessness is precisely continuing “with things as they are.” It won’t solve anything and it will only bring more suffering and demonization upon those already struggling the most.

  • Scoop Brady

    Nato Green, maybe if you were funny comedy clubs would be asking you to play there instead of you begging to play somewhere.

  • sfjohn

    and You have a brilliant solution Brainiac??

  • sfmission

    Enabling them is so much better.

  • sfmission

    What is your plan?