Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Homeless in San Francisco

We believe that we know all that there is to know about the homeless crisis in San Francisco… and in other West Coast bastions of leftist policies.

By now the lines of the debate are becoming clear. Enquiring minds want to know whether government is the problem or the solution. As you know, leftists believe that bigger government will solve all of our problems. More sensible folk tend in the opposite direction: believing that government can solve problems disempowers individuals, undermines societal norms and creates more trouble than it is worth. 

Anyway, Heather Mac Donald traveled to San Francisco to find out for herself. Hers is a long and detailed-- dare I say, seminal-- analysis of the problem. (via Maggie’s Farm)

The problem, she notes, lies in a community that refuses to enforce norms of civilized behavior. You can talk all you want about civility. You can drool endlessly about the prospect of people having civil conversations. And yet, when you allow your major cities to become open air toilets… because to do otherwise would compromise someone’s rights… you are smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes.

Mac Donald opens:

For the last three decades, San Francisco has conducted a real-life experiment in what happens when a society stops enforcing bourgeois norms of behavior. The city has done so in the name of compassion toward the homeless. The results have been the opposite: street squalor and misery have increased, even as government expenditures have ballooned. Yet the principles that have guided the city’s homelessness policy remain inviolate: homelessness is a housing problem; it is involuntary; and its persistence is the result of inadequate public spending. These propositions are readily disproved by talking to people living on the streets.

As it happens, locals believe that the problem is the lack of affordable housing. And also, the existence of rent control laws, laws which presumably discourage development. Mac Donald debunks the point. Bad behavior, rendered meaningful by well meaning leftists, will not go away with better housing opportunities:

An inadequate supply of affordable housing is not the first thing that comes to mind when conversing with San Francisco’s street denizens. Their behavioral problems—above all, addiction and mental illness—are too obvious. 

Of course, drugs are a large part of the problem. Some of us are old enough to recall the time when San Francisco was the epicenter of hippie drug culture. How’s that one working out now? Now, drug dealing has been taken over by illegal immigrants, granted sanctuary by well meaning California leftists:

Drug sellers are as shameless as drug users. Hondurans have dominated the drug trade in the Tenderloin and around Civic Center Plaza and Union Square since the 1990s. They congregate up to a dozen a corner, openly counting and recounting large wads of cash, completing transactions with no attempt at concealment. Most of the dealers are illegal aliens. One might think that city leaders would be only too happy to hand them off to federal immigration authorities, but the political imperative to safeguard illegal aliens against deportation takes precedence over public order. Local law enforcement greets any announced federal crackdown on criminal aliens with alarm.

And, of course, the leftist solution to the crime problem is to decriminalize crime. Presto… no more crime. Solves that problem, doesn’t it?

Not so fast, Mac Donald remarks:

The brazenness of the narcotics scene has worsened since the passage of Proposition 47, another milestone in the ongoing effort to decriminalize attacks on civilized order. The 2014 state ballot initiative downgraded a host of drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. (See “The Decriminalization Delusion,” Autumn 2015.) Local prosecutors and judges, already disinclined to penalize the drug trade so as to avoid contributing to “mass incarceration,” are even less willing to initiate a case or see it through when it is presented as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. San Francisco officers complain that drug dealers are getting neither jail time nor probation. Drug courts have closed in some California cities, reports the Washington Post, because police have lost the threat of prison time to induce addicted sellers like the Seattle man into treatment. The number of clients in San Francisco drug court dropped from 296 in 2014 to 185 in 2018, a decline of over 37 percent.

Californians will no longer prosecute certain crimes because the perpetrators are more often members of minority groups. Ergo, prosecution is racist.

And then there is the problem with mental illness:

When the mentally ill abuse drugs, their risk of violence increases. But assault seems to have been normalized in San Francisco, at least when committed by the homeless. Wallace Lee is part of a neighborhood coalition trying to stop the placement of a shelter on the Embarcadero, the city’s tourist-friendly waterfront. “Anyone who has lived in San Francisco for five years has either been attacked by a homeless person or has a friend who has been attacked,” he says. Members of his protest group have stopped mentioning such assaults in public hearings, however, since doing so brings on accusations that they are “criminalizing homelessness.”

Of course, the city has become an institutional enabler of homelessness. It does not just hand out free needles. It hands out free food.

The city enables the entire homeless lifestyle, not just drug use. Free food is everywhere. Outreach workers roam the city, handing out beef jerky, crackers, and other snacks. At the encampment across from Glide Memorial Church, a wiry man in a blue denim jacket announces that day’s lunch selection at the church’s feeding line, to general approbation: fried chicken. 

The city’s biannual homeless survey claims that “food insecurity” is a pressing problem, but the homeless don’t act like food-deprived people. Uneaten comestibles litter the sidewalks and gutters. A typical deposit of detritus outside an office building on Turk and Market includes an unopened one-pound bag of California walnuts, a box of uneaten pastries, an empty brandy bottle, a huge black lace bra, a dirty yellow teddy bear, one high-heeled red suede boot, and a brown suede jacket.

San Francisco has created the best conditions for homeless people. Thus, it has attracted large numbers of such folk:

The combination of maximal tolerance for antisocial behavior, on the one hand, and free services and food, on the other, acts as a magnet. “San Francisco is the place to go if you live on the streets,” observes Jeff, the 50-year-old wino and drug addict. “There are more resources—showers, yeah, and housing.” A 31-year-old named Rose arrived in San Francisco from Martinez, northeast of the city, four years ago, trailing a long criminal record. She came for the benefits, including Vivitrol to dull the effect of opiates, she says woozily, standing outside a huge green tent and pink bike at Golden Gate and Hyde, surrounded by the Hondurans.

Better yet, many homeless like to be homeless. When offered housing, they sometimes refuse:

Actually, it’s the homeless themselves who suggest that their condition has a large voluntary component. Jeff has been offered housing by numerous outreach workers and could come off the streets if he wanted to, he says. A man standing outside the city’s latest shelter prototype, known as a Navigation Center, says that he was offered housing four times but always turned it down. “I don’t know if I didn’t want to give up drugs, but I could’ve went in way before now.”

Mac Donald suggests that these people should be forcibly removed from the streets and placed in enclosed shelters:

It is not for the people destroying the social compact, however, to decide whether they will deign to accept the help that taxpayers are offering, when refusing that help destroys everyone else’s quality of life. Up and down the West Coast, Third World diseases associated with lack of sanitation—including typhoid, typhus, and hepatitis A—are breaking out in and around encampments. In 2018, San Francisco officials received more than 80 calls a day reporting human feces on sidewalks and thoroughfares. The city’s encampments generate up to six tons of trash daily, including needles still loaded with heroin and blood. The stench of the streets lingers in the nostrils for hours.

As for affordable housing, San Francisco has built a ton of it:

Is it lack of city-created affordable housing, as the advocates and politicians maintain? No other American city has built as much affordable housing per capita, according to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. From 2004 to 2014, the city spent $2 billion on nearly 3,000 new units of permanent supportive housing, which comes with drug counseling and social workers. More have been constructed since then, and thousands more are in the works, along with more shelter beds.

As for spending, the city is spending a lot of money on the homeless problem:

Is San Francisco not spending enough generally, as the advocates and politicians maintain? Its main homelessness agency—currently dubbed the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and dedicated to an allegedly novel mission: “helping homeless residents permanently exit the streets”—commands a $285 million budget. Add health services and sanitation, and you get a $380 million annual tab for homelessness, according to the city’s budget analyst. That figure is wildly under the mark, leaving out criminal-justice costs, welfare payments, and repairing infrastructure deterioration, among other expenditures. But even assuming the conservative $380 million, that works out to $47,500 a year per homeless person.

San Francisco needs law enforcement, someone to enforce community standards and to impose some discipline on the ambient chaos:

So what have been the missing elements in this flood of spending? A commitment to a single standard of behavior for all and an insistence that rights carry with them reciprocal responsibilities.

She continues:

Yet evidence has been abundant that law enforcement restores civic order. Before the 2016 Super Bowl, then-mayor Ed Lee announced that the homeless were simply “going to have to leave. . . . We’ll give you an alternative. We are always going to be supportive. But you are going to have to leave the streets.” And for the relevant period, the streets downtown were markedly cleaner. In spring 2018, a viral video of flagrant drug use in the Powell Street subway station prompted the authorities to increase police patrols there. The monthly tally of needles picked up by BART cleaners in the station dropped from 1,519 in July 2018 to 166 in May 2019, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and the drug scene there has abated.

San Francisco is not going to solve its street squalor unless it commits to a foundational principle: street living is not allowed, period. Set up camp, conduct your bodily functions in public, litter, loiter, use and sell drugs—all these illegal behaviors will result in a law-enforcement response, if only just moving someone along. Establishing that principle focuses the mind, bringing urgency to the task of creating places where people can get the help they need. The chimerical goal of building more affordable housing in the city for the “unsheltered” population would have to be discarded; its primary usefulness was to guarantee that the homeless remain on the streets, serving as a fund-raising bonanza for the activists and as a tool of the political Left. A unit of affordable housing in San Francisco costs between $600,000 and $800,000, depending on the materials used; building housing for all 8,000 homeless individuals would cost up to $6.4 billion, a third of the city’s budget. Permanent supportive housing for the entire homeless population would cost another $200 million annually. Yet according to a 2018 study by the National Academy of Sciences, such service-rich housing decreases the time that recipients spend homeless by only one to two months a year.

But this will require a revision in our attitudes, especially toward the mentally ill homeless:

Providing the mentally ill with the “liberty” to decompose on the streets is cruelty, not compassion. Several California state legislators have introduced legislation to make involuntary treatment and commitment easier. Yet the draft law is estimated to cover a mere eight individuals in San Francisco, by requiring, over the previous year, eight previous emergency visits to a hospital, as well as the patient’s refusal of voluntary outpatient services. Another proposed bill that dispenses with the voluntary-outpatient service requirement would cover only 35 individuals. The standard for getting the mentally ill into treatment must be rationally related to the need. More facilities for reinstitutionalization should be constructed; they, too, should be built where land is cheapest and taxpayer resources can provide the most care for the dollar.

It isn’t just the government that is fostering homelessness. Add to it trial lawyers and liberal judges:

The litigation onslaught from the homeless-industrial complex in every city with a significant street-anarchy problem is endless. But a 2018 ruling from the Ninth Circuit—comprising the Western states—was particularly crippling to order maintenance. The Ninth Circuit panel ruled that jurisdictions could not enforce anti-camping ordinances at night if they did not provide enough shelter beds for their entire street population. The panel drew on a pair of Supreme Court cases from the 1960s that held that government could not criminalize a status—such as the status of being a drug addict—without running afoul of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Criminal statutes must instead target voluntary acts, such as using or selling narcotics, the Supreme Court ruled in those 1960s cases. The 2018 Ninth Circuit decision, Boise v. Martin, extended this reasoning to protect public encampments. (An earlier Ninth Circuit case, Jones v. Los Angeles, had reached the same result, but that decision lost its precedential value when the parties settled.) Being homeless was a status or involuntary condition over which a person has no control, the Boise v. Martin panel held. If the state cannot criminalize homelessness (because homelessness is an involuntary condition), the state also cannot criminalize the inevitable consequences of that condition. Sleeping in public is one of those inevitable (and uncriminalizable) consequences, since sleep is a biological necessity. Only if a municipality has available shelter capacity for everyone on the street may that municipality cite someone for occupying a public sidewalk or thoroughfare in the evening. The Boise ruling triggered an increase in encampments across the Ninth Circuit, as officers backed off of enforcement.

Boise v. Martin was a patent case of judicial activism in the pursuit of a favored policy agenda. The decision discounted facts that stood in the way of its desired conclusion. But the ruling’s most serious problem was the declaration that homelessness is an involuntary condition that the sufferer has no capacity to control or change. Numerous personal decisions go into being homeless, such as not moving to a cheaper housing market, refusing offered services, or breaking ties with friends or family members who might be able to provide accommodation. The concept of agency is already under assault in the legal academy; should more courts pick up on this trend, much of the criminal law would have to be discarded. A dissenting Ninth Circuit judge in a subsequent appeal of the case noted that if cities cannot ban sleeping in public, because sleeping is an inevitable concomitant of being human, they also cannot ban defecating in public. The majority chose not to respond to this logical inference.

What should San Francisco do? Mac Donald offers some options:

If San Francisco wanted to give its homeless addicts their best shot at stability, it would go after the open-air drug trade with every possible tool, including immigration law, however unlikely such a change of course is. The San Francisco Police Department should send information regarding drug-trafficking suspects to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, so that ICE can arrest illegal-alien dealers for deportation. Proving illegal status is easier than busting a drug-trafficking operation. Though California law bans state law-enforcement officials from honoring ICE requests to deliver illegal-alien convicts to ICE custody, the Los Angeles and Orange County Sheriff Departments have created workarounds that San Francisco should use. If advocates insist that the main driver of homelessness is insufficient housing, they should stop trying to increase the state’s huge illegal-alien population—currently somewhere between 2.2 million and 2.6 million—which competes for housing and drives up costs. At a Board of Supervisor hearing in June 2019, single mothers organized by the Coalition on Homelessness demanded in Spanish that they be given federal Section 8 housing vouchers, rather than the shelter apartments they were currently occupying. Some of those single mothers were undoubtedly in the country illegally. Taxpayer subsidies should go to citizens, not individuals who are defying the rule of law.

For Mac Donald the homeless problem manifests a breakdown of social order. We might add that our willingness to countenance it manifests our own special breakdown:

The stories that the homeless tell about their lives reveal that something far more complex than a housing shortage is at work. The tales veer from one confused and improbable situation to the next, against a backdrop of drug use, petty crime, and chaotic child-rearing. Behind this chaos lies the dissolution of those traditional social structures that once gave individuals across the economic spectrum the ability to withstand setbacks and lead sober, self-disciplined lives: marriage, parents who know how to parent, and conventional life scripts that create purpose and meaning. There are few policy levers to change this crisis of meaning in American culture. What is certain is that the ongoing crusade to normalize drug use, along with the absence of any public encouragement of temperance, will further handicap this unmoored population.

The viability of cities should not be held hostage to solving social breakdown. Carving out a zone of immunity from the law and bourgeois norms for a perceived victim class destroys the quality of urban existence. As important, that immunity consigns its alleged beneficiaries to lives of self-abasement and marginality. Tolerating street vagrancy is a choice that cities make; for the public good, in San Francisco and elsewhere, that choice should be unmade.


whitney said...

Good Lord save us

trigger warning said...

In my opinion, McDonald and her unwokeitarian ilk should butt out. We went through all this in the 60's and 70's, when geographically distributed mental institutions were shut down. Cities and towns across America were burdened by legions of newly released loons. California is a perfect new approach to housing the insane - it's run by a group of inmates calling themselves The Assembly, and inmates frolic in a mild Mediterranean climate, get plenty of fresh air, unsupervised social interaction, and free drugs.

Thank you, California.

UbuMaccabee said...

First, Heather MacDonald is spot on on every count. She is the heir of Daniel Bell and Sydney Hook. She’s the best empiricist working today. She has written the obituary of a once-great city, my last stop in California before I decamped for Dixie.

Second, screw SF. I’m with the bums and the Honduran drug dealers. I hope the whole city drowns in human shit.

Ubu the plague bringer.

Anonymous said...

I can understand why the so-called democrats got so mad at Trump for talking about Shithole places. It would seem that they wanted that name for use only in California. Leftists are so used to turning everything they touch to "Shit" that they get all in a huff when people try to use it.
Welcome to your future if the so-called democrats win this war.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work, as always, by MacDonald. Now I have to go get the whole article. Was wondering WHY pitching a tent any old place was okay -- now I see that attempts have been made to stop it, and that it's the ol' 9th Circuit Court at work again. So bizarre, so Third World...this defecating in the streets makes me think of India. As someone born in mid-20th century America, seeing this is much more implausible than seeing changes such as the rise and use of computer technology.

Hoping that PDT's appointment of a few new judges on the 9th will start to make a difference. I spent years in CA, left for the last time in '97 and cannot believe videos now.