An assortment of belongings from a homeless encampment are seen on Brannan Street in May. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SF small businesses suffer without solutions to homelessness

Small business is compassionate about our homeless community and understands their plight. However, small business is the backbone of our community with a retail sector that is struggling with competition from online sales.

Brick-and-mortar businesses including retail, restaurants and personal service providers rely on customers who will not patronize them if access is blocked or they feel unsafe.

The encampments and “chop shops” create a sense of insecurity, and potential customers frequently avoid these situations and leave, thus having a detrimental financial effect on businesses.

There’s also the impact on the quality of life with sidewalks inundated with trash and detritus, not to mention disposed needles. The majority of homeless people seem entitled thumbing their noses at authority, using entire public sidewalks that are for pedestrians, not tents, chop shops, prostitution and drug dealing. Without working, they seem to be able to afford cellphones, cigarettes, pets and drugs.

Small business owners not only work about 12 hours a day, seven days a week, but also pay numerous taxes and myriad of fees to stay in business — they wouldn’t dare place a sandwich board in front of their business without being threatened with hefty penalties. They also are required to pay for trash cans and are fined when individuals dump the trash out to collect bottles and cans.

Small businesses deserve respect and cannot continue to tolerate this absolute ignoring of their plight. Small businesses gets no breaks, with no rent-control nor relaxation of fees — yes, like a separate fee for each cash register!

The question arises about what to do with the homeless. The City has an annual budget of more than $235 million for homeless services, and mention has been made that surely a town could be purchased for some $5 million and $230 million could go to providing services, for which the state could chip in. Another source could be from the cannabis industry, as apparently Colorado does. No doubt, there would have to be a ballot measure; however, most San Franciscans would sadly think this to be a cruel solution.

Whatever the solution, homeless encampments and chop shops should not be allowed to exist where they impact small business. We are certainly grateful to the police and the agencies who have had the homeless encampments removed, and we look forward to their continued concern for small business.

Henry Karnilowicz is president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations.

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