Sunday, August 26, 2007

Care, Not Recycle

San Francisco Chronicle's C.W. Nevius:

Whenever there is discussion of the homeless encampments in Golden Gate Park, it always leads to a central question: Why are they there?

The obvious reasons are that the park is large and hard to patrol, it is adjacent to panhandler- and needle exchange-friendly Haight Street, and San Francisco's temperate climate keeps camping out from becoming too uncomfortable.

And then there is that cash machine right there in the park.

The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council recycling center, which is located at the southeast corner of the park, next to Kezar Pavilion, is a morning institution for the down-and-outers.

They stop in, drop off cans, bottles and plastic (which even recycling officials admit often come from the blue commercial recycling bins), and pick up a morning cash payment. From there it is anyone's guess what they do with the money.

RJ Pettit, a recycler who walked all the way from his city-sponsored hotel in downtown San Francisco to drop off recyclables, said:
"If you give an alcoholic or a drug addict money, they may buy booze or drugs,
but he might also buy food, or clothing, or get a place to sleep."
That's a lovely thought, but realistically, wouldn't we expect that Pettit's first instinct was right?

That's why Mayor Gavin Newsom's homeless program was called, "Care, not cash."

A nearby neighbor said:

"It's a cash register for them. It is accommodating their lifestyle."
In fact, with a little collecting - or a scoop into an unsupervised blue recycling bin - a scavenger can easily score $5. Someone like Pettit, who collected two large trash bags of bottles and cans, can clear more. He was paid $27.50 the day I was there.

HANC (commonly known as "Hank" in the Haight) has run the recycling center since 1974, at a time when recycling was as exotic as a serving of tofu. It clearly filled a need at the time, and was given a sweetheart city rental agreement - just $5,000 a year - and prime location next to the old Kezar football field. (At present it is on a month-to-month agreement.)

There are city officials who wonder if this is the best use of park land, but they are reluctant to step up against the famously feisty, and progressive HANC, which can mobilize plenty of political clout.

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