Cheers and Jeers for S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom
First the cheers. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has declared the war on drugs a failure.
"If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs," he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. "You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs."
The mayor maintained local jails are overcrowded with people incarcerated for drug offenses, taking up room that could be used to hold more violent criminal offenders. He said violent criminals with lengthy felony records are being turned loose, too often.
San Francisco Sheriff San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey agrees with him.
Now the jeers. San Francisco is initiating a program of busting the homeless on "quality of life" crimes.
The city will send teams of outreach workers and police officers to offer social services to any homeless person caught littering, camping, trespassing, urinating, defecating, blocking sidewalks or publicly intoxicated.
If the homeless people refuse the services, they will receive a citation and will be told to appear in traffic court in 45 days. If a person is caught committing another quality-of-life crime within the same 8-hour period, he or she will be taken into custody.
The Board of Supervisors isn't happy:
Some members of the Board of Supervisors and advocates for homeless people smell a re-election shift toward criminalizing homelessness and sound as if they are prepared for a City Hall showdown if the administration doesn't change course.
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said he was "blown away" by the description of the program in the memo circulated Tuesday.
"It seems to be a huge step backward. Criminalizing homelessness is neither care nor cash," Peskin said, alluding to Newsom's Care Not Cash program, which reduced the city's welfare checks in return for providing housing and other assistance to the checks' recipients.
Homelessness is not a problem the police can solve.
"It's eerily reminiscent - it sounds exactly like Matrix," Daly said after the meeting, referring to Jordan's initiative during the early 1990s that entailed a similar teaming of police officers and social workers to deal with homeless people. "San Franciscans have proven time and time again that they reject the notion that homelessness is an issue best handled by the Police Department."
Nor is teaming cops and social workers a good idea.
Daly told his fellow supervisors during their meeting Tuesday that teaming police officers with social service workers would compromise the relationships social workers try to build over time with homeless people.
Here's how the plan will work:
The memo refers to the downtown outreach as a pilot program and says it will involve three separate teams of one police officer and two social service workers who will work in an area bounded by Third Street to the east, Fifth Street to the west, Market Street to the north and Harrison Street to the south. The teams will work in two shifts: 6 a.m.-2 p.m. and 2-10 p.m.
According to the memo, anybody found committing a crime such as "littering, encampment, trespassing, urinating, defecating, dumping, blocking sidewalks, intoxication, etc." will be asked to stop and enter into social services. If the person resists, the police officer would issue a citation.
The memo continues, "If the arrest is related to a misdemeanor, (an outstanding arrest) warrant, intoxication or a 2nd citation for the same time period, the individual will be taken into custody for processing."
Many advocates for homeless people say there aren't enough shelters, and the ones that do exist are dingy, unhealthy, scary places homeless people don't want to venture into. Mecke wants the city to adopt public health and safety standards for shelters like those that exist for prisons and hospitals.
"We can move people from Golden Gate Park and we can move people from downtown, and that might make people temporarily happy, but it's not a long-term solution," he said.
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