On the Homeless Front

Providing comprehensive services for street people is morally uplifting -- and, as shown in New York, good policy

But on Monday came the bad news: The board considered a proposal that would usurp the mayor's ability to appoint members to the city's Planning Commission and the Board of Appeals. This move would represent a housing disaster, because the board, elected by district, is more susceptible to pressure from anti-housing neighborhood groups than the mayor, who must deal with citywide concerns -- such as housing and homelessness. Now, the mayor appoints all seven members to these panels. Under the new plan, the board would appoint three, and have veto power over the rest.

As never before, Americans are coming to realize that we all share the same lot in life. Perhaps it's time to take that idea to its logical conclusion: If members of our community are suffering on the street, it's time for dramatic action.

Rather than fleeing the craziness of our political class, as we did this last election, we must engage it: This latest bit of anti-housing folderol really should be derailed. More important, we need to engage the craziness on our streets. There was a time, years ago, when America dreamt of being a great society, and San Francisco thought itself a great city. Right now San Francisco and the rest of California are easing into a winter in which we will systematically denigrate the least fortunate among us.

A decade ago New York found itself in San Francisco's position and launched a moral call to arms. If we do the same, miracles might happen. Take the example of Darlene James, who with the help of friends recently found a place at the Windsor Hotel, a 94-unit Tenderloin facility leased by the city to provide addiction and mental health services to the homeless.

In the same way that street-life craziness begets more craziness, James is finding that having a safe place to stay has allowed her to collect herself. She's looking for a job: housecleaning, warehouse work, prep cook, anything. "I'm in a better place and moving on my life," she says. Still, she'd like to see the same opportunity offered to the rest of her friends from the China Basin meth-addict encampment.

"There's never enough housing; they say one thing, and they do total opposites. We can always use housing. That's the No. 1 issue in San Francisco," she says. "They say we need to pull together -- we should have been together from the get-go. Not just because these buildings fell."

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