Activists: Ticketing of S.F. homeless is unjust, cruel, costly

Issuing homeless people tickets for illegal camping or drinking in public is unjust, cruel and wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, a homeless advocacy group says.

Between January 2004 and June 2006, the San Francisco Police Department issued 31,230 “quality-of-life” citations, according to Religious Witness with Homeless People, a group of religious leaders that has concerned itself with homelessness issues since 1993.

Members of the group alleged on Thursday that city documents prove The City has spent $5.8 million enforcing quality-of-life ordinances during the 30-month period.

Barbara Meskunas, executive director of the San Francisco Taxpayer’s Union, said the citations are “a ridiculous waste of money.” She added, “The homeless are still going to be in the street.”

Nathan Nayman, director of the downtown businesses association Committee on Jobs, said many city residents are frustrated that “many of the existing laws on the books dealing with quality of life are not enforced as much as they should be.”

Nayman was not surprised by the alleged cost, saying, “It costs money to enforce the laws of The City.” He said in recent years the homeless problem has gotten better.

Religious Witness members praised Mayor Gavin Newsom’s efforts to solve The City’s homeless problem, citing his Project Connect program, which has housed more than 1,000 homeless. But members say The City’s “other policy” to issue the homeless citations is counterproductive.

“Every year thousands of homeless members of our community are cited, arrested, dragged through the courts and jailed simply for the crimes of sleeping or camping on the sidewalk or in the parks or even in their own vehicles,” said Sister Bernie Galvin, executive director of Religious Witness.

“Among the things we must not do is punish [the homeless] because we have not figured out yet how to take care of them,” Alan Lew, of Religious Witness, said.

Because the homeless often do not have the money to pay the citation, a warrant is usually issued for their arrest, according to Elisa Della-Piana, of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. She said the warrant prevents them from accessing any services.

However, Jim Buick, deputy director of The City’s Human Services Agency, said quality-of-life citations or arrests do not prevent someone from participating in The City’s homeless programs.

Buick would not comment on the citations, saying, “The police are just doing what they have to do.”

jsabatini@examiner.com

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