The Left's Betrayal of the Homeless

Last year’s “pieing” of Mayor Brown is a perfect metaphor for the impotence and futility of the radical left’s approach to homelessness in San Francisco. Instead of pushing serious proposals to actually solve the problem, radicals engage in self-righteous exhibitionism that, in this instance, only made an increasingly unpopular mayor a sympathetic figure.

The most visible advocates for the homeless have been the people at Food Not Bombs. They feed the homeless but seem to have little interest in challenging the status quo.

The city’s “alternative” press takes the same approach, when it takes any interest in the issue at all. “Leave Them Alone” was the cry of the S.F. Bay Guardian during last year’s police sweep of the homeless from the city’s parks. Instead of launching a weekly campaign to convice the city to invest enough money to solve the problem, the alternative press, like the folks at Food Not Bombs, engages in moral posturing: We are the Good People, and the cops and the mayor are Blue Meanies.

Once the police sweeps were over–and there were no more headlines in the dailies–homelessness became a non-issue, and the left withdrew into its customary smug acquiescence in the status quo. The implication is that the city’s poorest residents–perhaps as many as 16,000 people–belong in the streets and that they and we will just have to accept it. In the meantime, Food Not Bombs, the Bay Guardian, and Frontlines will try to make it easier for the homeless to stay in the streets, while insisting that the authorities not do anything to make it harder.

By failing to implement a comprehensive, city-wide policy to actually end homelessness, establishment liberalism–the mayor, the board of supervisors, the unions, the Democratic Party–tacitly accepts the idea that this is the way we have to live in San Francisco in 1999. Like the left, liberalism has also lost its way. Since Mayor Brown ordered the police to get the homeless out of the city’s parks late last year, there’s been little movement or debate on the issue. The homeless have simply been pushed downtown and into the neighborhoods, where they are still a problem for working people, renters, homeowners, and small businesses.

100 homeless people a year are dying in the streets of San Francisco. Posturing by the left and the timidity of our mainstream political leadership have created the worst possible situation: degraded neighborhoods and life-threatening circumstances for the homeless themselves.

The politically dicey and expensive–what happened to the city’s $145 million surpllus?–solution that the city and advocates for the homeless don’t want to face: that hard-core substance abusers, runaway teens, and the mentally ill–the overwhelming majority of the homeless–need to be taken into custody and compassionately dealt with according to their specific problems and needs. The fact that people find themselves living on the streets is evidence that their lives are out of control. This is not just another lifestyle choice. A government that supposedly represents all the city’s people has to intervene to defend both the well being of the homeless themselves and a civil society for the rest of us.

The principle that the city must uphold is simple: no one has the right to live in the city’s parks or on the streets. These are public spaces that belong to all the people.

If and when the city puts this policy into practice, the radical left will be outraged by the violation of the “rights” of the homeless, and they will inevitably be branded as heartless fascists. This is when our elected officials need to stand firm and to insist on enforcing both civility and compassion on the streets of the city.

The status quo is bad for both the city and the homeless. Sooner or later the people of San Francisco are going to understand that we don’t have to live this way.