Homelessness is an epidemic in San Francisco, and every San Franciscan knows it. Interim Mayor Mark Farrell’s solution to this epidemic is for the city to stop “enabling street behavior.” This statement was made on Monday, April 23 within the context of Proposition Q, an initiative created by Farrell in 2016 which bans tent homes on San Francisco’s sidewalks. Proposition Q gives city officials the authority to remove these tents, so long as residents of the tent communities are given a 24-hour notice before removal in addition to help finding alternative resources, such as a homeless shelter. Farrell seems driven to confront the city’s foremost deficiencies head-on. But behind his confident rhetoric, I am not seeing many new or promising ideas.
There is a reason why this method has not frequently been used since it was passed by a narrow 51.8 percent majority in 2016. The city simply does not have the resources to relocate all 3,500 of these street-dwelling residents. Homeless shelters in the city fill up fast and most have long waitlists already. Farrell’s $13 million plan to clean up the streets of San Francisco, along with his adamant promises to clear out homeless camps in the city’s Mission District in the coming weeks, mentions nothing about establishing additional housing for the homeless. If we remove the homeless without giving them a place to stay, we’re not “solving” anything. We’re just responding to a problem with cruelty.
Similar sweeps of this nature have occurred in the past, resulting in the destitute San Franciscans simply returning days later or moving a few blocks away to set up their campsites once more. The slogan for Proposition Q was “housing not tents,” implying that the former tent-dwellers will get housing. However, as activists from the Coalition on Homelessness have pointed out, the legislation has only sought to eliminate tents and has thereby neglected the implementation of additional housing. San Francisco is quickly becoming one of our nation’s most expensive cities. Paying rent is a burden even for steadily employed residents, and homeless shelters especially have trouble remaining afloat. Without additional support and funding for shelters and resources from the city, I fear that the problem of homelessness will only worsen.
I walk the streets of San Francisco daily and agree with Farrell in that the streets are not always glamorous. Among the wonder and awe of this phenomenal city, a stroll around the block often has you dodging needles, holding your nose and pondering whether you almost stepped in dog or human feces. Nearly everyone has been or knows a victim of a car break-in, and the Panhandle might just change your idea of the phrase “a walk in the park.” Farrell says he is disgusted and embarrassed by the condition of San Francisco’s streets, but his solution does not fix the problem. While concrete can be cleaned and trash can be thrown out, homelessness is an issue not so easily vanquished. Regardless of who they are or what they do, these people are our brothers and sisters, and they, more than anybody, need a mayor who will advocate for them.
Proposition Q is a promising concept, but it is merely treating a symptom of the disease. The masses of homeless San Franciscans on the streets are a reminder that our liberal utopia has a dark side. The glory days of the ‘60s and ‘70s are behind us, and we are now facing the harsh reality: you cannot pay rent with peace and love. The soul of this counterculture era will forever live on in our hearts, but the way our streets look today is not what rock legend and hippie icon Jerry Garcia would have wanted. The infamous San Francisco homelessness epidemic will not be fixed by brute force or our mayor’s desire for these residents to disappear. Invest in more shelters, more programs to aid those with mental illnesses and drug addictions and help these individuals get back on their feet. No single piece of cold legislation is going to fix this problem, and the sooner our acting mayor realizes this, the sooner he can consider a more humanitarian approach.
Featured Photo: A homeless man on Mission St., an area that recently was cleared of tents under Farrell’s leadership. FRANCO FOLINI/FLICKR