SF Supervisors: Don’t make Sleeping While Homeless a crime in 2008!

Coalition On Homelessness, December 20, 2007

SF Supervisors: Don’t make Sleeping While Homeless a crime in 2008!

(See article below by Newsom’s mouthpiece, C. W. Nevius, explaining the issue through his twisted lens.)

Monday, January 7, 10 AM
Meet on City Hall Steps to lobby Supervisors

We are starting a new year folks and on January 8, 2008 is a critical issue that will give us the opportunity to halt the criminalization of  poor folks whose only crime is being too poor to pay the rent!

The Full Board will be voting as to whether to amend the camping and  sleeping code to make it easier to cite people for sleeping.

Supervisor Ammiano has a counter amendment that says they have to offer  housing before they can cite folks (Yes we like this idea!).   This would codify what the Mayor says he is already doing.

The Mayor doesn’t like it, and is pushing through Supervisor Dufty a  counter amendment that would give people the ticket, then have them  prove they were offered services, and if they get any other tickets,  the tickets would stand!

No, no, no, we don’t like that.

Folks are going to jail for trying to some sleep in Frisco.   This is  not the Middle Ages.    Let us stop the madness!

We need you to get on the phone and call,  call,  call, and have your friends  call the following supervisors:

SUP SANDOVAL 554-6975
SUP MAXWELL 554-7670
SUP MCGOLDRICK 554-7410

Tell them to reject the Newsom/Dufty amendments and approve the Ammiano  amendment.

Jennifer Friedenbach
Executive Director
Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 346-3740 x 306
fax:  775-5639

To learn more about our work, and to get the latest scoop on the
politics of poverty in SF, go to the Street Sheet blog:
http://www.cohsf.org/streetsheet/

SF Chronicle, November 27, 2007

 Supes tinkering with Newsom’s park camping ordinance

C.W.   Nevius

Nothing is ever simple in San Francisco politics.   Last week, an ordinance introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom to close loopholes inhibiting enforcement of laws against camping in Golden Gate Park came up for a vote before the full Board of Supervisors.   Passage seemed a slam dunk.

Not so fast, Mr.   Mayor.

Advocates for homeless people got the ear of certain members of the board and attempted to turn this into a case of “criminalizing the homeless.” The next thing you know, the very real possibility has been raised that the ordinance may be changed and wind up doing more harm than good.

“Their long-standing strategy is that enforcing laws that are targeted at a single group due to their poverty is wrong,” said Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency.   “I would agree with that.   But we are not targeting the homeless per se.   We are targeting behavior that is harmful to people who use the park.   What we don’t want is to get to a place where we are weakening the current law.”

Anything leading to less enforcement would be counterproductive.   Chronic homelessness, encampments, drug use and vagrancy in the park are hot topics, and nearly everyone – on all sides of the homelessness issue – agrees that no one should be living in the park.   But even so, the mayor’s park measure got bogged down and nearly killed by amendments.

His original ordinance sounded like common sense.   It said that homeless campers couldn’t build an encampment, couldn’t bring in “any device that could be used for cooking,” and extended the no-sleeping-in-the-park hours from 8 p.m.   to 8 a.m.

What’s wrong with that?

“All of us share a common goal,” Rhorer said.   “We want to get them out of the park and into shelter.”

Or, as Supervisor Bevan Dufty put it, “Our city is failing if the park is the housing of last resort.”

Well said.   So, because nearly everyone seemed to be in agreement, it seemed it would just be a matter of talking through a few points, refining a detail or two, and then voting the ordinance in and accepting the thanks of a grateful public.

That’s not how things went.

In just a hint of how difficult it can be to make progress in the face of committed, well-organized opposition, the Homeless Coalition (whose director did not return calls for comment) began to muddy the waters.   Speaking for the advocates, Supervisor Tom Ammiano proposed an amendment.

“I saw it more as tweaking,” Ammiano said Monday.   “I think a lot of it is timing.   Some of the things can be fixed.”

Right.   But the concern is that this will be “fixed” to death.

At one point the proposal stated that before a homeless camper could be cited for a violation, it had to be shown that he or she had been offered services and permanent housing at least five days earlier.

Oh sure, that wouldn’t be hard to enforce.   How, exactly are city workers supposed to verify that they had contacted each homeless person? Maybe they could carry a camera and take a photo of them offering services?

“It would be like someone being pulled over for speeding,” says Rhorer, “and then having to ask them if they’d taken a driver training class in the previous five days.”

In an attempt to save the measure, Dufty introduced another idea.   In his amendment, homeless campers would be cited for violating the rules, but then would be allowed to make the citation go away by accepting a homeless program.   Of course, that wouldn’t mean that a violator couldn’t say he was going to accept services and then drop out after a day or two.

“Right,” said Rhorer, “but that’s what the D.A.   does now.   The person says, ‘I am willing to go into treatment,’ and the district attorney says, ‘Fine, charges are dismissed.’ All this is doing is codifying what is already being done.”

Dufty, a reasonable fellow, says he had some very real concerns about the way the ordinance would work.   For example, he says – and Homeless Outreach Team director Rajesh Parekh agrees – that with the closure the homeless shelter on Otis Street in the Inner Mission there may be a minor shortage of beds and slots in drug and alcohol treatment programs.   Ammiano says his concern is that people may be offered services but then find that they are not available.

He says that was why he started proposing amendments and was just trying to clear up a few things.

“There’s some kinda gray areas,” he said.   “Believe me, the last thing anybody wants is a knock-down, drag-out fight on this.”

So, instead, the ordinance was sent back to committee for more hearings.   Ammiano insisted it is just temporary, and that “it is definitely worth a look see.   It’ll come back to the board.   It is too important not to.”

Sure, but when it does, expect more smoke and mirrors.   Dufty, who wants this to work, knows the drill.

“The discussion got sidetracked because we couldn’t agree on whose responsibility it was to offer them housing before we cite them,” he said.   “A better idea would be for everyone to understand that the parks are for use during the day.”

Now there’s an idea, simple, clear and direct.

So it probably doesn’t have a chance.

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