Saturday, October 02, 2010

San Francisco’s Homeless & The Matrix

They are still attempting to deal with one of the worst urban situations with the homeless on the West Coast—ever since the one success they had, the Matrix Program established by former mayor Frank Jordan in the 1990's.

This article from the Wall Street Journal reports on the latest developments.

An excerpt.

“Stroll down Haight Street these days, and chances are you'll be accosted by aggressive young vagrants. "Can you spare some change?" asks Cory, a slender dark-haired young man from Ventura, Calif. "Dude, do you have any food?" His two female companions, Zombie and Eeyore, swig from a bottle of pricey Tejava tea and pass a smoke while lying on a blanket surrounded by a fortress of backpacks, bedrolls and scrawled signs asking for money. Vincent, a fourth "traveler," as the Haight Street gutter punks call themselves, stares dully into space.

“Asked why people should give them money, Cory replies: "They got a dollar and I don't." Why don't you work? "We do work," retorts Eeyore. "I carry around this heavy backpack. We wake up at 7 a.m. and work all day. It's hard work." She's referring to begging and boozing. Asked if they're embarrassed to be begging, Cory says: "I'm not begging, I'm just asking for money."

“Such strapping young hobos see themselves as on a "mission," though they're hard-pressed to define it. In fact, they are defined by an oversized sense of entitlement.

“Of all the destinations on the West Coast "traveler" circuit, the Haight carries a particular attraction to these panhandlers, thanks to the 1960s Summer of Love. Over the last several years, however, the vagrant population has grown more territorial and violent. "I don't care if they ask for change," says Arthur Evans, a self-described former hippie who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. "It's okay if they loiter and make a bit of noise. But I don't feel safe walking down the Haight at night any more."

“In July, two pit bulls bred by the residents of an encampment in nearby Golden Gate Park tore into pedestrians, biting a 71-year-old woman to the bone and wounding her two companions. Last October, one of three punks sitting on a blanket with dogs spat on a 14-month-old baby when its mother rejected their demand for change. These days vagrants carry knives and Mace; people who ask them to move risk getting jumped. Merchants trying to clean up feces and urine left by drunken youth are sometimes harassed and attacked.

“By late 2009, community frustration with the aggressive behavior led the police captain in the Haight district to propose a "sit-lie" ordinance to ban sitting or lying on city sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Police would first ask someone blocking a sidewalk to move along, warning him he was violating the law. Only if he refused could they cite him.

“The city's politically potent homeless advocates instantly mobilized against the proposed ordinance, as they have in every battle over public space in San Francisco over the last two decades. The real problem in the Haight, advocates claimed, is inadequate government housing and stingy welfare spending. Rather than "criminalizing poverty," the city needs to spend more money on social services and housing subsidies, they say. But the gutter punks are not looking for housing and have no intention of settling down in San Francisco or anywhere else. They are in the Haight to party, en route to their next way station.”