It’s election season, and the denizens of San Francisco won’t shut up about the big race. The two candidates could not be more polarizing. One is a sharp-dressed woman who tries to relate to the common people but has a history of cozying up with corporations and saying anything that is politically convenient, even if it means flip-flopping on her established positions. The other is a tall blowhard who hates poor people and has been creeping out the targets of his sexual advances for decades.
I’m writing, of course, about Jane Kim vs. Scott Wiener in the race for California state senate. To me, the contest is ultimately a farce. Both candidates are democrats, and although in the ultra-left microcosm of San Francisco Scott Wiener seems like a less-handsome Barry Goldwater, I’m not too worried about him screwing over the great state of California more than it’s already screwed over. I attended the sole Kim/Wiener debate, during which both candidates emphatically explained how, if elected, they would bring affordable housing and state-of-the-art transportation to the city of San Francisco. In other words, the candidates, who are both currently on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, were presenting great cases for why they should stay in San Francisco and not go to Sacramento. Nonetheless, I will still vote for Jane Kim because I like her and want to support her political career, but to me it’s a win-win situation: if Jane Kim loses, then San Francisco gets rid of Scott Wiener.
Now, if Mark Farrell were running instead of Scott Wiener, I would potentially vote for him in the hopes that he would win and leave my city behind forever. Farrell is also on the SF Board of Supervisors, representing the Marina district, which accounted for roughly half of the 9000 San Francisco votes for Donald Trump in the June primaries (most of the others were in Twin Peaks and the surrounding neighborhoods—the wealthiest part of the city). A former VC, Farrell has been firmly entrenched in the pro-Ed Lee “moderate” camp (as opposed to the anti-Lee “progressives”) since he was first elected to the board in 2010. Like many other San Francisco politicians, Farrell has strong opinions on the best approaches to dealing with the “homeless problem.”
I first encountered Farrell last year at the Town Hall to End Homelessness, which was an ambitious event put on by Project Homeless Connect (one of my favorite SF-based charities) in conjunction with Greg Gopman. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Greg Gopman was the uncouth tech-bro CEO who, posted an epic Facebook rant condemning the homeless population of San Francisco in 2013, which included choice bits of assholery such as, “in downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city.” The post was not well received and the backlash led to Gopman’s resignation from his company and self-imposed hermitude.
For two years, nobody saw or heard Gopman, until he emerged, reborn, a phoenix rising from the ashes who had seen the light and now wanted to devote his life to helping the homeless instead of lambasting them. Some of his ideas were eccentric and unrealistic (such as provisioning homeless people with private geodesic domes), and it often seemed like Gopman was expending a disproportionate amount of energy on pontificating on his own personal redemption, rather than addressing the problems affecting homeless people themselves. Just last week, Gopman’s name appeared in the news again, when Twitter hired him to join their AR/VR team and TechCrunch responded by publishing a hit piece that got Gopman fired rather quickly. Apparently Twitter had neglected to do any sort of background Google search on Gopman, but once TechCrunch published a story gently reminding them of a tirade he posted online 3 years ago and writing off all of his efforts of redemption as insincere, that cajoled the social media giant into immediately regretting its hiring decision.
I, for one, call bullshit. I’ve seen Greg Gopman speak and I’ve read his blog posts (there are others besides the ones linked above). It’s clear why people think he’s disingenuous. Imagine if a middle school bully gets in trouble for calling somebody “gay” in a derogatory manner in the classroom and is required by the teacher to go read the Wikipedia article on gay rights. He comes to class a week later with a forced sense of sympathy, and awkwardly lectures everybody about the Stonewall riots and hate crimes inflicted on the LGBT community. Do we believe that this bully has actually reformed his ways? To many, this is analogous to the approach Gopman is taking towards homelessness.
I see it differently. In my not-so-humble opinion, Gopman is a narcissistic, entitled douchebag who made some huge mistakes in the past and is now desperately trying to be a better person, albeit in an arguably self-righteous manner. Needless to say, I can relate, and I believe that he deserves a second chance.
Gopman had envisioned the Town Hall to End Homelessness as his opportunity to advertise his newfound charitable heart, but the powers that be, aware that Gopman’s unique style of delivery often overshadowed the substance of his message, did their best to limit Gopman’s stage presence. They were largely successful in their efforts until Gopman took the podium at the very end of the event and gave a 7-minute soliloquy on his transformation. Putting that aside, the event was certainly worth my time. The first half showcased a number of inspirational speakers, including representatives of the Navigation Centers (temporary deluxe shelters that, from what I’ve read, are actually quite effective for helping get people off the streets), Project HandUp (crowdsourcing to help individual members of the homeless community), and Lava Mae (mobile showers and toilets for homeless folks). These speeches were followed by a panel discussion hosted by Gary Kamiya featuring Supervisors Jane Kim and Mark Farrell as well as Joe Wilson, the program manager for Hospitality House, an incredible SF community-building organization.
The panel decidedly was not the highlight of the evening. Farrell started by jerking himself off a bit, talking about his work on authoring and passing Laura’s law, which centers around treatment for people with mental health issues. Jane Kim arrived late, and then she and Farrell jerked each other off for their brilliant ideas about providing free or below-market housing for the homeless. Joe Wilson tried to keep the politicians honest, pointing out how in a small, dense, city like San Francisco with a saturated housing market, providing all of the homeless with free living spaces (a la Salt Lake City) was an overly-expensive (and thus unrealistic) approach. The supervisors artfully dodged his attacks, but I chalked up their responses to classic politician-style diplomacy. All in all, I left the meeting thinking that although Farrell was one of the “right-wing bad hombres” on the Board of Supes, he seemed to have some genuine empathy for the plight of the homeless community.
Oh how naïve I was back in 2015. Fast forward to a few months ago, when I first learned about Prop Q, which was written by Farrell. I immediately distrusted it when I read that it was co-sponsored by Scott Wiener, who is not known for his compassion towards the homeless community. The backdrop is that, in the past year or so, more and more homeless people have acquired camping tents, and small “tent cities” (which are better described as “shanty towns”) have been popping up all over the city, particularly South of Market (although they’re becoming more ubiquitous, and I often see them in Hayes Valley where I live). Many San Franciscans are concerned about these tent cities, because they are more visible than homeless people sleeping on the concrete (perhaps due to the brightly-colored nylon of the tents) and force the better-off to face the unfortunate fact every day that the city is full of extremely poor human beings.
In January of this year, the city was worried that tourists coming in for Super Bowl 50 would be taken aback by witnessing poverty in the Tech Capital of the Universe, so Ed Lee and his minions did what any “reasonable” municipal government would do: they forcibly removed the tents from the area surrounding “Super Bowl City” (a corporate-sponsored football theme park that could be used to induce vomiting during an ipecac shortage). If the residents of the tents did not evacuate the area in a timely manner, their tents were thrown away and their belongings confiscated. Unsurprisingly, the more empathetic progressives did not approve of these abhorrent actions, and a protest led by popular blogger/firebrand Broke-Ass Stuart was staged to bring attention to the cruel treatment of the people who relied on tents for shelter during the winter (which, incidentally, was unusually rainy due to El Niño).
Unphased by the protest, Farrell has come back and is now attempting codify removal of tent encampments with Proposition Q. This approach appears anathema to the Mark Farrell whom I saw speak at the Town Hall to End Homelessness, the district supervisor who, despite representing some of the wealthiest people in the city, was determined to help those most in need. In order to reconcile these two conflicting notions: compassion for the homeless and hatred for those who have no homes, Farrell came up with a MAGA-esque slogan (and I’m not joking here): “Housing Not Tents.” The concept is simple: homeless people should live in permanent housing, not tents. Therefore, we should get rid of their tents. And Farrell and Wiener are trying to pass this off as humane.
I read the text of Prop Q. It was the only proposition I actually read this year. Between 17 propositions for California and 25 for San Francisco, the ballot books weigh in at an overpowering 537 pages combined, and make me question the purpose of having a representative democracy at all.
I usually like to read all of the interesting propositions word-for-word, as well as all of the arguments for and against, but life is too fucking short to deal with the gargantuan tomes delivered to my mailbox during this election cycle. Despite that, I had to read Prop Q in its entirety so that I could be fully justified in hating it. To spare you the agony of having to analyze this convoluted piles of word feces on your own, I will present you with a simplified discussion on the theory of Prop Q (as described by proponents of the law) vs. the reality.
Theory: Police officers see one or more tents on the sidewalk. They inform the inhabitants that they have 24 hours to evacuate the area or their tents will be confiscated. However, the tent inhabitants are given temporary shelter (either in a city shelter or a Navigation Center), and this temporary shelter will turn into permanent housing so the former tent inhabitants never need to sleep in “Hotel REI” ever again.
Reality: Police officers see one or more tents on the sidewalk. They inform the inhabitants that they have 24 hours to evacuate the area or their tents will be confiscated. This leads to one of three outcomes:
- The tent inhabitants pick up their tents and move them one block away. I’m guessing that this is what will happen 90% of the time.
- The tent inhabitants pack up and go to a shelter offered by the city, where they are supposedly allowed to stay for one night. The city currently has roughly 7000 homeless people and 1200 shelter beds. There is an 800-person waiting list for the shelters, so in order to make Prop Q work, people already staying in the shelters will need to be pushed out. I’m guessing that there’s not actually going to be any communication between the shelters and the cops tasked with evicting the tent dwellers—making sure there are shelter beds for those who are displaced is actually quite difficult logistically and the text of Prop Q does not seem to contemplate how this would work in the real world. I’m guessing that the cops will simply point the tent inhabitants in the direction of the nearest shelter and tell them to try their luck there.
In any event, the notion that you have 24 hours to go to a shelter is absurd in and of itself: according to the video I’ve posted below, to get into a shelter, you need tuberculosis clearance, which takes 72 hours. (Important note: this does not actually appear to be the case according to the SF Dept. of Public Health website—if anybody can provide any insight into this, please let me know!) Further, many homeless people do not like staying in shelters, which have strict curfews, limitations on the amount of possessions you can bring, and a prohibition on pets.
Prop Q also suggests that tent dwellers may be moved into Navigation Centers. The Navigation Centers, which allow you to bring in all of your stuff and your pets, are more attractive, but entry into Navigation Centers is by careful selection only and there is slim to no chance that anybody displaced by Prop Q will make it into one.
In any event, after one night, you’re back on the street…and most likely back in your tent, especially if it’s raining.
- The tent inhabitants refuse to move. Their tents and all possessions inside are confiscated. Supposedly they are impounded for 90 days before they are destroyed, but I imagine that it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for a homeless person to retrieve his or her possessions after they are placed under control of the police department.
This video provides some more information:
The Yes on Q camp also has videos. Let’s take a look:
The small business owner. The police officer. The taxpayer. What do these people have in common? One thing: none of them are homeless. This brings us back to the “homeless problem” that I referenced above. When I say “homeless problem,” I mean the problem for homeless people—that they don’t have homes and are forced to sleep on the streets. When Farrell speaks of the “homeless problem,” he means the problem for people who are not homeless—those poor unfortunate souls who must endure the unpleasant sight of les miserables, who create a blight in an otherwise pristine urban environment. I’m sure he gets a lot of complaints from his constituents, those who live in the Marina but have to leave their lily-white bubble and travel downtown to work. Sure, they have Chariot so they need not take public busses with the riff-raff and other commoners, but once they get to the end of the line, they will undoubtedly need to walk a block or two, in which they will see those repulsive tents. And of course, they’re exposed to much larger tent encampments when they go to SoMa on Saturday night for the all-night EDM basement parties.
These Marina types are currently working Farrell’s phone banks for Prop Q. Here’s a picture the Yes on Prop Q team posted on their Facebook page:
Look at all of the fun they’re having! Reminds me of this:
There’s one other Yes on Prop Q video that makes me particularly uncomfortable:
According to this video, which does not attempt to provide any sort of reference, an average of two women report being raped in tent encampments each month. This is horrible, but this has nothing to do with tents. Homeless people are raped and assaulted every night. Particularly homeless people who are young. Particularly homeless people who are young and who are LGBT and/or racial minorities. Farrell’s ads seem to suggest that drug use, prostitution, rape, assault and other crime among the homeless happen more now because of tents, but I have not seen any objective news sources corroborate this. These horrific perils of being homeless were happening under the cover of night long before the cover of tent was introduced.
I will admit that empathy with homeless people is not easy for me. I was blessed from birth with an uncommonly strong, stable, and supportive family, so I have never been at risk of becoming homeless. I have been told by homeless people to whom I give muffins that I don’t know shit about homelessness, and this is a true statement (for the record, I’ve also received many, many, many kind words and I encourage everybody to give muffins to homeless people and to not be deterred). I don’t think you can ever understand what it means to be homeless unless you are homeless. But I understand that homeless people are human beings who are dealing with shitty situations, and being demonized by the city and harassed by the police is not going to help them or anybody around them.
Believe it or not, I am also doing my best to empathize with people who support Prop Q. There is no shortage of such people—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Prop Q ends up winning (despite the combination of my virtually unstoppable persuasive powers and the expansive readership of this blog). I’ve spoken to many of these people. I’ll admit that I’m not doing too well with the whole “empathy” thing on this front. In fact, I can think of two occasions where I was a complete fucking asshole to people who disagreed with me on this issue. I was only drunk during one of them.
But here’s what I understand:
- Nearly everybody living in San Francisco has had at least one frightening or otherwise negative encounter with a homeless person. Most of us have been grabbed or otherwise assaulted, chased, and yelled at. Many woman have been barraged with disgustingly insulting catcalls or worse forms of sexual harassment. We’ve nearly tripped on people passed out or shooting up in the middle of the sidewalk. As the homeless population increases in San Francisco and the situation becomes more desperate, these incidents become more and more frequent.
- People are fed up with the fact that San Francisco spends more per capita on services geared towards helping the homeless than any other city in America, and yet there has been no decrease in the homeless population.
- There is something unnerving about tents. You can’t see inside of them–who knows what their inhabitants are doing?
- Most importantly, as I mentioned above, tents are very difficult to avoid seeing. Before I started handing out muffins, I only noticed homeless people when I’d walk within several feet of them—other than that, I’d tune them out, as many people do today. In fact, many homeless people with whom I’ve spoken note that the worst part about being homeless is that people treat them like they’re invisible. However, when a tent pops up on the sidewalk, you notice it.
- IT SEEMS LIKE NOTHING IS HELPING THE “HOMELESS PROBLEM” AND IT’S JUST GETTING WORSE.
These are all valid points—and they’re frustrating for all parties involved. It seems like nobody has a clue as to how to solve the “homeless problem” once and for all. But Proposition Q will not actually get rid of tents, nor will it do anything to help homeless people or improve your health or safety. It will give cops yet another legal channel for making life worse for those who are suffering the most, and it will do so to your detriment (because we have a shortage of cops and we need them to spend their time addressing actual crimes) without causing even a temporary benefit for a single person. Except Mark Farrell, who can chalk this up as a political victory when he runs for mayor. This is why we must all vote “No” on Prop Q!
If you want to help the homeless, I recommend baking muffins and handing them out to those in need, as well as donating money, time, or in-kind services to any of the organizations included in the links throughout this post, which I will now consolidate here for your convenience:
Project Homeless Connect: https://www.projecthomelessconnect.org/
Lava Mae: http://lavamae.org/
SF Navigation Center: http://www.ecs-sf.org/programs/navcenter.html
Hospitality House: http://hospitalityhouse.org/
And here are a few of my other favorite SF charities that deal with helping the homeless:
Larkin Street Youth Services: focused on helping homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 24 in the Tenderloin and Haight neighborhoods. http://larkinstreetyouth.org/
Episcopal Community Services: they offer many services, including shelter, food, and job training. http://www.ecs-sf.org/
Downtown Streets Team: provides job training with the goal of permanent employment and housing. I recently learned about them at an event last week—apparently Greg Gopman was there as well but I didn’t see him. http://streetsteam.org/
Alright friends, thanks for reading. I gotta run—it’s Monday morning and I have two dozen banana-chocolate chip muffins that ain’t gonna eat themselves…