City That Spends Millions Criminalizing Homeless Might Criminalize More Homeless

Look: San Francisco is rich. It may not necessary feel that way while walking down any number of potholed streets strewn with detritus (and that's a nice euphemism), but S.F. is filthy loaded. We have $9.6 billion in the coming annual budget, buddy. That's Baltic nation status

That could be one reason why it's NBD the city spends $20.6 million a year on sending police and other city agencies after our 6,500-plus homeless population whenever they violate one of the currently 36 “quality of life” laws on the city's books. (Why public complaints about the homeless and violations of laws aimed at the homeless have risen more than 35 percent since 2013, in a time frame when the homeless population increased only 16 percent, according to the city's Budget and Legislative Analyst, is less certain.)

Nationally, there's been an increase in laws aimed at curbing homeless activity — and yesterday, Supervisor Mark Farrell and three other elected officials proposed one more.

This fall, Farrell — along with Supervisors Katy Tang, Malia Cohen, and Scott Wiener, the latter of whom is trying to be elected to state Senate — will ask voters to enhance the city's existing ban on sidewalk tent encampments, which could then be removed with 24 hours, by — you guessed it — the police, as the San Francisco Examiner reports.

[jump] Called the “Promotion of Safe and Open Sidewalks” initiative, this voter proposition would add to the city's Police Code, giving the city the authority to clear a tent encampment as long as every resident is offered a shelter bed “or some other form of housing” and given 24 hours' notice.

As per the Ex, “The City could not enforce the prohibition of encampments 'unless there is available housing or shelter.'” It does not specify what shelter is adequate. It could mean that situations like the Super Bowl Tent City could have been cleared in 24 hours as long as the residents were given a temporary bed at the Pier 80 temporary shelter. 

The ballot language says it can be enforced by the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Works, or the city's new homeless-specific department, but it seems the onus would fall to police.

This is reminiscent of 2010, when voters approved a ban on people lying on sidewalks. As you can see, that particular innovation hasn't particularly changed things. But that hasn't stopped us from trying the same thing — again and again.

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