Heart of the City Archives
Just Say House

Every few years San Francisco remembers it has a homeless problem. The local media have been all over the issue in recent weeks, especially the dailies and the Independent. This time around, as in the past, the epicenter of the problem is Civic Center and the Sixth Street corridor, from Market Street to Brannan. In the current wave of interest, reporters and columnists alike have come up with all kinds of new ways to describe the horror of grown people shitting in public. 

The Examiner's PJ Corkery has complained bitterly about being accosted by people overtly pitching him "green bud" all the time. I really can't get with you on that one, PJ. Rather, I side with my friends in the Haight who say that 20 million Americans are on Prozac because the government sanctions the pharmaceutical industry. If a chemotherapy patient or even a stressed out receptionist could pop into the deli for some green bud there wouldn't be any need to hawk columnists on the sidewalk. I digress, but speaking of accosting folks...

The Chronicle is actually conducting "Toilet Patrol," on-the-spot interviews with people as they exit the JCDecaux public toilets, now notorious for their use as private recreation rooms for drug users, prostitutes, and others. The Chron's vigilance is fueled by the recent heroin death of a young man in the toilet near Market and Castro, in addition to other problems. I can't imagine what my reaction would be if a reporter approached me on the way out of the can, but I don't think my comments would be limited to the action in the toilet. Can a reality TV show be far behind? LooTV.

The Examiner, however, has gone the farthest, recently alarming one and all with its "Sex Con Row" banner headline. The Ex wants everyone to know that the Sixth Street corridor is crawling with registered sex offenders. According to the Examiner, Megan's Law doesn't go far enough in giving the public access to the whereabouts of perverts. They don't say where they'd like registered sex offenders to live, but it's not in District 6

In its coverage of a murder on Sixth Street last week, the Examiner was able to record plenty of witness outrage, also describing how one observer's head "snapped to the right" when he heard gunfire. The coverage read like the treatment for a screenplay rather than a hard news story. Reporter Zoe Mezin wrote, "Two worlds collided... when a man in his early 40s was gunned down in front of a Christian youth center, whose white banner seemed to eerily sum up the dawning drama. 'City Crossroads,' it read." Cut, print. 

Jeff Webb, a resident of the area, has another idea - his live webcam. Apparently Webb thinks if we can all get on the Internet and watch vagrants pissing on the mural across from his room at Sixth and Stevenson, we won't have to wait until we happen upon such a scene to become so outraged.

Rob Morse, our most intelligent columnist in terms of knowing how the City works, suggests compassion has worn out and it's simply time to do something about the so-called poor souls responsible for the elevation of urine to the official fragrance of the streets of San Francisco. But what? Occasionally someone floats a ludicrous idea like giving the homeless ATM machines. More shelters would be nice, but even that's not the whole answer.

The problem of homelessness and poverty is inexorably connected to San Francisco. The things that make it San Francisco, our climate, social tolerance, intangible allure and yes, liberal politics and generous dole, ensure a steady stream of those who live on the streets. A lot of the blame this time is placed on District Attorney Terrence Hallinan for his very relaxed policy on the prosecution of small drug crimes. The media and politics only cheapen the real human problem.

So the issue rears its head of late. We don't really do anything about it besides bitch and we probably won't now. But I'm certain that cutting cash welfare payments will be the next popular idea for curbing drug and alcohol use by homless people. Until then we'll just keep moving homeless people from one place to the next, running them out of Golden Gate Park, or Civic Center, or wherever the last murder was or wherever the wrong person from City Hall or Fifth and Mish witnessed someone defecating on a bus shelter or got slapped by what my grandfather would have called a bum. 

I spoke with a homeless guy who was working hard and actually pulling himself together after three years on the streets. He tells me that the shelters are completely mad, that basically the men staying there will beat you if you don't care to get high with them. He told me there's so much anger and blame at these places that you'd think they were prisons. He really emphasized how much anger and aggression there is among the homeless, and not just among the mentally ill. "It's not safe, period," he says. It seems some people need more than green bud or Prozac to escape this moment, and that's a problem reflected in society at large, as is rage. It's just that its victims on Sixth are not as cuddly or forgivable as high school kids who look more like us.

My friend also said he's beginning to meet some former dot com workers who have quickly gone homeless. "They don't go easy into making seven or eight dollars an hour," he says, "The need to have the whole crisis before they'll go to work for that."

As recently as last year, when times were flying high, giving was at an all-time low. Now that there's no work, folks don't want to share the streets with the drugged, the sick, the lost, the addicted. Perhaps we can convert Alcatraz into an island resort for the people we don't like to smell or don't know what to do with. Then we can vote them off the City one by one.

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Copyright 2001 Hank Donat
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