San Francisco’s Proposition Q would ban tents on the city’s sidewalks. Police and city workers would ticket tents and impound them along with all of their occupants’ possessions the next day.
Right now, there’s a sense of urgency regarding homelessness, with many housed residents feeling like something needs to change. That sense of urgency may come from empathy, fear, frustration—all sorts of experiences.
Prop Q plays to this urgency, but on a false premise. You’ll probably see their slogan, “Housing not Tents,” in their massive media campaign. But the first half – the housing – is completely missing from their equation.
Under Prop Q, a person being evicted from their tent is only mandated a single night of shelter. Imagine losing what little space and stability you have for just a single night in a shelter bed. Even if you got to stay longer, you’d be back needing to sleep outside again soon. And because the shelter system is already over-burdened, the bed you just got was taken from someone else on the waitlist.
This is why some people have moved into a tent in the first place – sometimes there is no better place for them to go. Being homeless is like that – a forced option. There are 1,300 shelter beds for over 6,500 homeless people. And for those who are left outside, having a nylon “roof” to block the wind and offer some protection can be of help.
If Q passes, the end result would be only more harassment. Most folks given a ticket would simply move their tent a block or two away, living even more like refugees in their own city. Concerned neighbors would see tents move up and down their city’s streets. They may even see tents removed, with their homeless neighbors on the bare concrete. But they wouldn’t see people getting off the streets.
Just earlier this year, the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst released an in-depth report on the 36 so-called “quality of life” laws already on San Francisco’s books. According to the report, these laws cost the city $20.6 million annually (over 90% of it on law enforcement) and hurt the people they criminalize. Think of what that kind of money could do toward helping people with housing.
Here’s a poem by Laura Slattery, Executive Director of the Gubbio Project, which I think captures the reality of Prop Q and other anti-homeless laws extremely well:
OK, But to where? In front of your neighbor’s house? They would not be any more pleased to have me on the sidewalk in front of their house than you are. The storefront down the street? It is right around the street from a bar. I got peed on the last time I was there by young, drunk, oblivious party goers at 2 am.
The park? It is illegal to camp in SF and they enforce it in the park. I spent 3 days in jail last time (or got a citation I couldn’t pay). The church (cathedral) steps? They’ve just hired not one, but two security guards to patrol the grounds and move us along.
The alley? It isn’t safe. I had my wallet, and my shoes, stolen the last time I was there. To the encampment on Eddy Street? They are not accepting any newcomers afraid that if it gets any bigger the City will do a sweep.
To the city hall plaza? They play loud ‘annoying’ music all night long so I don’t get any rest. To the shelters? My name is on the list. I am number 642.
To my family’s? I am not safe there – that is why I am out here in the first place. Out of the city? I am one of the 70% who are actually from here. I don’t know any other place and without any resources I will just be homeless there.
So here I am, in front of you. The shelters are full, the streets are dangerous and undignified. “Move along. It doesn’t matter where you go—just move along.” OK. But. To. Where??
I urge you to join me in voting No on Prop Q.
Ben Lintschinger is the manager of GLIDE’s Advocacy Program, part of GLIDE’s new Center for Social Justice. He has worked at GLIDE for over 5 years and has expertise in social welfare policy, program evaluation and clinical social work. He enjoys working as a part of GLIDE’s broadly diverse community, where he gets to see people from many walks of life work towards and celebrate creating a more just, equitable and caring society.