The streets are no place for any person, irrespective of their particular problems. But we as a society have decided that when a person’s problems become so acute that they lose their home they are to be left to wander around like a street urchin from a Dickens novel. And so the presence of the homeless in San Francisco and other cities around the United States is an expression of collective will, both political and socio-economic. The condition of homelessness suffered by millions around the nation, and San Francisco in particular, is therefore in no way the fault of the homeless themselves.
And so what is to be done?
Well, Supervisor Wiener, if we were to listen to you the solution would seem to be to continue sweeping homeless people out of their tents, boxes, sleeping bags and shopping carts and out of public view until they can be warehoused in shelters. After all, you argue, the “tent encampments” are unsanitary, unsafe and a public nuisance, and you’re right on all those counts. But you fail to offer any real solutions as to what it is the homeless are supposed to do and where they are supposed to go. The facility on Pier 80 is not complete; there is no indoor plumbing as of yet. The rest of the shelters and Navigation Centers are full. It is therefore inhumane — not to mention morally obtuse — to continue to chase the homeless from one place to another, each time stealing and destroying their meager possessions, when The City clearly lacks the resources, the political will or the simple, human decency to do what authorities in Utah and other states have done with the Housing First program: that is, just give homeless people apartments.
Have you not heard about this program, Supervisor Wiener? If not, allow me to explain. Housing First operates on the now-proven theory that what homeless people need is not warehousing but housing, that is to say decent, affordable, clean, private, secure and dignified apartments, however small, that they can call their own with no strings attached. No mandatory 12 step meetings, no visits from social workers who must be let in, no sobriety tests and, most importantly, no cost to the homeless beyond 30% of whatever benefits they might already be receiving. Those with no money at all get the housing for free until such time that they have a job or succeed in getting benefits. The result? Over 80% of the homeless are successful in staying in their apartments after one year, most having stabilized their lives of their own accord, with new jobs and spontaneous remission from addiction.
Now, isn’t that remarkable? Doesn’t that sound like the kind of forward-thinking program that San Francisco can use to solve its homelessness problem? I hope you agree, and I further hope that you will present this idea at the next meeting of the SF Board of Supervisors. It’s the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.