CW Nevius writes San Francisco - the liberal, left-coast city conservatives love to mock - could be undergoing a transformation when it comes to homeless people. Although the city would still be a poor choice for a pep rally for the war in Iraq, indications are that residents have had it with aggressive panhandlers, street squatters and drug users.
Consider the case of David Kiely, who has lived in the South of Market area for 18 years. He bought a home when prices were low and now lives there with his wife, Jenny, and their three boys, ages 7, 4 and 1. Kiely insists "we're not some white, yuppie parents saying we can't take this." In fact, he says, they donate to programs for homeless people at Glide Memorial Methodist Church and the food bank at St. Anthony Dining Room. But he's finally saying "enough is enough."
"I don't expect it to be Cow Hollow or Pacific Heights, but the other day Jenny is bringing the kids back from the park, and some guy is standing on the corner throwing up on himself.""Maybe there has been an epiphany," says David Latterman, president of Fall Line Analytics, a local market research firm.
"People have realized they can hate George Bush but still not want people crapping in their doorway."Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco's Human Services Agency, is at ground zero for homelessness concerns. He's heard it from local residents at meetings, he's read the polls, and he noted the huge response to Chronicle columns about the homeless people and intravenous drug users in Golden Gate park. Like others, he thinks there's been a change in the way San Franciscans think the homelessness problem should be approached.
"I don't think this is a conservative or liberal thing. This is quality of life for everyone. What research has shown and what we have seen from visits to cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland and New York is that you need to combine good social outreach with law enforcement."That means something more than an offer of help, which often is declined anyhow. (One city official estimated that nine out of 10 say they are not interested in a shelter or housing when approached.)
"Maybe, you just need a guy with a badge standing over them and saying, you can't stay there any more."That's tough talk for a city that's been known as a friendly place for those down on their luck. And in previous years it would have been a political non-starter. When Mayor Frank Jordan tried to push homeless people off the street with his "Matrix" program, the crackdown got much of the blame for his failure to win a second term.
But this has the feel of a new day in San Francisco, says David Binder, a statistical analyst and founder of David Binder Research.
"Homelessness, and quality of life issues, are dividing the liberals and the progressives in this city. The liberals will say we've got to get tough on the homeless and the progressives are more old-line liberal."How that debate will come out is anyone's guess, but it is hard to disagree with Latterman's blunt assessment, which is:
"People are just pissed. For the first time, even the left is saying they've had enough."In an informal poll by SFGate.com, 90 percent of respondents said Mayor Gavin Newsom's crackdown South of Market was a great idea.
San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Enough is enough. S.F. says of homeless by C.W. Nevius