Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tony Bennett won't be coming back for his heart any time soon...

Not to start the day on a negative note, but...well, I'm starting off on a negative note. This was in the news yesterday, and after the holiday weekend, it was a bit difficult to ignore.

I had the chance to visit San Francisco over the weekend, and when not eating a perfect cannoli at Stella Pastry on Columbus, or being offered pot by three different people at Haight-Ashbury’s Golden Gate Park, I got to stay in the Tenderloin district, which is nothing if not exciting. Not only did my first ten minutes of arrival time present me with one transvestite and two prostitutes, but instantly made apparent how prevalent homelessness is in San Francisco. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (noted in the San Francisco Chronicle), 2003 found an estimated 40 percent of San Francisco's homeless population to consist of chronic street-dwellers, while chronic street-dwellers comprised only 10 percent of the national homeless population by contrast. And yes, this is very visible and very apparent in San Francisco today, particularly in the Tenderloin district, up and down Market Street, through Golden Gate Park (essentially a campground), and Nob Hill.

I wound up buying the most recent edition of Street Sheet – a newspaper created by the Coalition on Homelessness, meant for homeless people to sell so that they can keep profits as an alternative to panhandling – and also learned exactly how the homeless are targeted as criminals. Jeremy Bearer-Friend wrote, in the publication’s Feb. 2007 edition, that sleeping in your car, camping out in a public park, or taking up sidewalk space can earn you misdemeanor or infraction charges, either landing you in jail or earning you a fine of anywhere from $50 to $500. Unpaid fines can lead to an arrest warrant, which makes exiting homelessness nearly impossible because of the criminal record it leads to.

Appalled at this point, I read through a second article on homeless families in the city, which stated that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (apparently a lusty alcoholic) has “only committed to 200 housing units at a rate affordable to San Francisco’s more than 2,000 homeless families." On the upside of things, the Care Not Cash act looks vaguely promising as a method of forced rehabilitation, provided forced rehabilitation is effective. Additionally, the Coalition on Homelessness is constantly accepting donations and pledges to keep its volunteer staff spreading the word of services and policies, all the while distributing 94% of its papers to homeless individuals for direct sale. It’s a start, and in a city as heartbreaking as San Francisco (amazing cannolis or no), a start is a worthwhile effort.

For more articles on homelessness in San Francisco, click here.

Make a donation to the Coalition on Homelessness or read more about the organization.

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