Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project flew up from San Francisco last week to be here for our encampment at City Hall. WRAP is a west coast coalition of homeless activists, and between us, we’ve seen it all.
The day after the protest, which drew more than 150 people overnight and at least 50 others to leaflet during the day, Paul looked at me and said, “You guys are headed down the same ugly road as San Francisco and LA.”
Much as I’d like to think otherwise, he’s right. While city spokespeople describe how their new policy addresses advocates’ concerns by providing 48-hours notice, storage, outreach, and shelter, not one single homeless advocate, service provider, or homeless person I’ve talked to believes this to be true.
This intransigence — this rock solid commitment to a policy that is both inhumane and immoral — is a measure of what’s at stake.
This isn’t rocket social science. Big money is riding on downtown condos. Overbuilding and economic downturn have added to the fear. Those who buy — often several years ahead of the opening — have been sold on safety. Visible poverty makes people nervous. The City responds with sweeps, and dresses these up in the rhetoric of compassion.
It’s a well-worn script. Google “homeless sweeps” and aside from Seattle you’ll see San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Contra Costa County, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Fresno, and even Covington, KY. That’s just in the first 30 hits.
And the official line is always the same:
"This is a humanitarian approach," said Cynthia Belon, director of Contra Costa County's homeless program. "It's far more effective to give someone a place in a shelter and an appointment for them to get help."But here’s the rub. The shelters are full and services are stretched to the breaking point. A long and ugly road stretches before us, not headed anywhere good.