Posted by osum on:
Picture by Caitlin McCarrick
So, the whole thing about the $50,000 project to realign some benches to keep panhandlers from harassing people...if you haven't heard of it on the local news, maybe you caught it in the LA times or the San Francisco Chronicle.
Let's look at this problem from a few different angles...First and foremost, the fiscal one. RDA funds, happen to be in great risk of being taken by Sacto due to the dire fiscal state of California. Is this really the best way to spend part of the funds? (Mind you this is the price tag for the removal of only 14 benches.)
Secondly, thinking about the effectiveness. The homeless people I watch on State Street are there begging, but many, are just sitting there, all day. If they aren't facing the street, they are still going to be sitting there. They will still be seen by everyone walking on State, and I'm pretty certain if a position of a bench is uncomfortable, they'll find a different place to sit. As someone well pointed out in the LA Times story, this approach will only move the homeless from State Street- appeasing business owners- to the neighborhoods, which will then create an outcry from neighborhood associations in only a matter of time.
If we wanted to go with an ineffective, illogical approach, we might as well put a Sit-Lie ordinance- similar to the one Newsom sought to pass in San Francisco- which fines these individuals incrementally every time they sit or lay on sidewalks and streets during the hours of 7:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M.- on the 2011 ballot, since we already are set to have the expenses of running our own elections on off years. The reason this type of ordinance wouldn't work is because it wouldn't fix the problem, it would only further criminalize it. (Assuming that if passed it would not create a law suite from the ACLU similar to the one that made us repeal previous ordinances on the books.) These people would be fined, time and time again, possibly go to jail (which taxpayers pay for), they would fail to receive any type of supportive services they need and they would be back on the streets (literally) within days. Would it solve the problem> No, but it could give the illusion that the problem is being addressed, although it would be an expensive illusion to maintain.
Turning around the benches as was the decision of DO and RDA, is many steps removed from a sit/lie ordinance, yet it also creates an illusion that steps are being taken to address the "issue of homelessnes" which in truth, I feel, everyone knows that nothing is going to change.
The Downtown Org and City were on a good track with the unveiling of the Real Change Not Spare Change campaign, yet it hasn't had the follow through. Like with all new ideas, there were fanfares at the beginning but the marketing of it to the public has just not been there to actually make a difference.
The city was also on the right track when they implemented the Safe Parking program in conjunction with New Beginnings. While these programs alone cannot and will not solve the end result of homelessness or any of the root causes, we should for our own good, seek pragmatic solutions, or no solutions at all, but we should avoid expensive, "pseudo-solutions" that only give the illusion of addressing the issue.