Quality of Hype

Aggressive panhandlers are not getting the gentle, loving care they so need from the city

Mayor Gavin Newsom has been busy unveiling new proposals recently, in a rush to show voters how much he will improve their quality of life if they re-elect him in November. The community court proposal is at the top of his list. It would supposedly address crimes of poverty like panhandling by linking the arrested with social services.

We just have one question: Does anyone remember Proposition M?

Think back. The year was 2003, and Newsom was an ambitious supervisor campaigning for mayor. He sponsored the successful ballot initiative known as Proposition M to outlaw "aggressive panhandling," and used it to show voters — you guessed it — how much he would improve their quality of life, should they elect him as mayor. As a way to sell the ballot measure to soft-hearted liberals, the law required the city to connect arrested panhandlers with social services.

Four years later, homeless advocates say no specific program was ever set up to ease panhandlers into social services, so most judges have dismissed the cases.

According to the Department of Public Health, a grand total of 17 people have been referred to social services as a result of Prop. M. "It's easier to make something against the law than to set up alternatives," said Elisa Della-Piana, of the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights.

So Newsom used Prop. M to get elected, but did nothing to ensure that it had any effect whatsoever. Might this say something about the mayor's ability to follow through on ideas like, say, the community courts? Not at all, said mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard. Really, Prop. M was just the warm-up act.

"The community justice center is the coordinated system that Proposition M really needs to be successful," Ballard wrote in an e-mail.

In the meantime, the mayor could make use of the homeless folks who are back to panhandling at the highway offramps. Why not give them some Newsom '07 posters?

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