Fog. Hills. Victorians. Bread bowls of chowder. For decades, those are the things people have associated with San Francisco. In recent years, though, there’s been a new addition to the list: homelessness. The homelessness epidemic is so pervasive that it’s often the first thing visitors mention about The City by the Bay.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news recently, things have come to a head over the “Tent City” that lines Division Street. A young tech worker named Justin Keller wrote an incredibly tone deaf open letter saying he shouldn’t have to see people suffering on his way to work. The once-and-always Mayor Willie Brown bragged about hosing homeless people down, and perpetually cranky Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius has been penning an open war against the homeless — not homelessness — for, what feels like, years.
Unfortunately, dealing with the issue in the ways these bozos suggest only punishes the people who’ve already fallen through the cracks of our unjust system, instead of trying to alleviate the problem. So I asked Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, what can actually be done to resolve the issue of Tent City. Her answers are compassionate and humanistic, and City Hall should pay
BASIC HYGEINE MATTERS
No one on the streets wants to use the sidewalk as a toilet. We’ve asked hundreds of homeless people this question, and they want a dignified place to use the restroom. Let’s make sure tent campers have access to a restroom and showers. Portables work and really decrease issues with poop and pee dramatically.
ENSURE ADEQUATE SHELTER IS AVAILABLE
People should be able to show up at Pier 80 to get shelter. The City is limiting access by referral. There are more than 800 people waiting for traditional shelter that should be able to access the new shelter beds. Pier 80 is full of course, contrary to media reports, but The City is slowly moving the number of beds up to 150. When new beds are available, let folks know, and don’t limit stays and create a revolving door.
ADDRESS THE VERY REAL HEALTH NEEDS OF CAMPERS
As medical outreach teams can tell you, campers have some very serious health concerns that need to be addressed. Their health is deteriorating in the elements, many are developing addictive disorders and their mental health is going downhill. Many of these conditions mean shelter is an inappropriate placement. The City must ensure campers have their very real health needs met, and that they have housing in order to recuperate.
EXPAND PIER 80
Let folks use the massive parking lot in front of the pier to camp in tents. Let people camp there safely; they have plenty of room. Expand the numbers beyond 150.
EXPAND THE SIZE, SCOPE OF NAVIGATION CENTERS
The navigation center has been successful not just because pets, partners and possessions are allowed, but because there is housing at the tail end of the stay. That means turnover and more people are able to get off the streets.
IMPLEMENT BEST PRACTICES FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
The federal government has strong words for localities that are engaging in criminalizing and displacing homeless people who have no choice but to sleep on the streets. They call it cruel and unusual punishment and have released guidelines for sweeps. The basic component is that if the person is not causing harm or obstructing passage, they should not be displaced. Localities should instead find shelters and housing as a solution. San Francisco should follow these best practices.
FIND A SUSTAINABLE PROGRESSIVE REVENUE SOURCE
I know lots of San Franciscans think we already spend a lot on homelessness. We do, but a) there is not a lot of waste, lots of low-paying jobs and b) it is only 2.6 percent of The City’s budget, so you need to have a little perspective. Half of the money is paying for housing for 6,000 people, which, if we stopped, would double our homeless population. Most of the rest is spent on emergency, health and social services.
Want to get involved in helping? Go to www.cohsf.org and donate your money or time.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.