With a growing number of activists and elected leaders decrying the recent homeless sweeps and calling for a state of emergency, Mayor Ed Lee on Tuesday issued a strong and fiery rebuttal, defending his administration’s handling of the growing crisis.
Be patient, the mayor said in effect this week, The City is on the right track and we already have all the ideas we need to combat homelessness, thank you very much.
It was the mayor attempting to take control of a crisis he can’t admit is out of control.
Luckily, we have others in City Hall who think this is no time for complacency.
Supervisor David Campos, for one, introduced legislation Tuesday to declare a state crisis to open up homeless shelters on public land. He also said he wants three Navigation Centers opened in the next four months, and six within a year. We will find the money to pay for it, Campos said, even by making cuts to other things in the budget.
It is the right stance: We must prioritize getting services to those without homes above other needs.
Lee, for his part, shot back that he hopes to open a second Navigation Center in the next two months, despite statements a week earlier that it might take half a year to find a site. The City’s current and only Navigation Center, which combines services and shelter, has been open for a year on Mission Street, in Campos’ district.
Campos also proposed allowing onsite drinking and supervised drug injection at some of the new centers, following a program that other cities are considering as well. Lee was quick to nix this idea for San Francisco, saying city resources should focus on getting people off substances, not helping them get high. But it’s an idea worth exploring, and certainly seems a better situation than forcing users to shoot up on city sidewalks or public buses.
Lee dismissed Campos’ proposal, saying it “didn’t offer any solutions, no new philanthropic partnerships, no new sites for Navigation Centers and no path forward.”
“But,” the mayor added, “it did offer rhetoric.”
Truth is, there has been too much rhetoric on all sides of this issue, and rather than waging a political battle over homelessness, we need our leaders putting aside differences and working together to find real solutions — and fast. Homelessness is an overwhelming problem we face in this city, and nothing will be accomplished by trashing each other’s ideas or grandstanding on this issue.
What the mayor failed to appreciate resonating in Campos’ plan and the recent demands of activists — something that has been sorely lacking in The City’s approach up to now — is a sense of urgency.
People are in need now, and not enough is being done. We need to do more as a city and as citizens to help the homeless out of homelessness.
And about that dig Lee made against Campos for not suggesting any partnerships to tackle the problem. Somewhat like, perhaps, the private sector partnerships Lee himself proposed six months ago to address homeless solutions. As of this week, that fund the mayor touted has yet to received any private sector contributions.
It’s past time for more ideas.
Michael Howerton is editor in chief of the San Francisco Examiner.