Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
San Francisco, Hostage to the Homeless (city-journal.org)
67 points by wyclif 63 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

Was just listening to https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07q4ngz (WS More or Less: Does San Francisco have more rough sleepers than Britain).

Spoiler: Yes. The city of 900,000 has more rough sleepers / homeless than the country of 65 million.

And I think England has way too many homeless. Don't really see any out where I live (rural town in Hampshire) but I do see a lot of unfortunate ones in the cities.

At least compared to where I grew up where there were very few homeless people https://www.quora.com/Are-there-homeless-people-in-Norway

There was a Ross Kemp episode about how the British counts of rough sleepers could be very wrong; many towns with official counts of zero having visible dozens, etc.

That was covered in the podcast. Their conclusion however was that since England and San Francisco both used the same methodology, they're probably wrong in the same direction and by roughly the same amount.

So while you cannot conclusively say that SF has more rough sleepers than all of England (not Britain) it's not unreasonable to believe so, and either way the actual numbers are probably very close.

Wow, that article's rhetoric is seething with social darwinistic class hatred. All these voluntary homeless seems to be conspicuously absent in western Europe. At least at this scale.

Insisting on, which the author clearly does according to a quick googling, firmly supporting and perpetuating an economic system that creates these dystopian features and then calling for their forceful removal, through weasel language, is cynical at best, and evil in practice.

Your point side-steps the social responsibility of lifting drug-addicted and mentally-disadvantaged victims of so-called “social Darwinism” out of their state of despair. The case made by the article for social change is rock solid and borne out by a quick walk through the TL.

In what way? I'm trying suggest to address the root cause, albeit very long term, rather than just moving poverty out-of-sight.

> voluntary homeless

I lived deep inside the homeless prone parts of SF. 99% of the homeless in my neighborhood couldn't hold down a job if they wanted one. I was homeless for a while, and I certainly didn't do that voluntarily. Drugs, inability to afford housing & find a job (my issue), alcoholism, landlords playing games to get people evicted, mental health issues, lack of skills to compete, etc. The list goes on. I'll shut up now before I say what I REALLY think.

Lets do an experiment. Go to a park in the middle of London, and set up a tent, and scatter used needles on the sidewalk. You'll be involuntarily moved out of the park within a couple of hours.

Since your governments go ahead and remove people who are trying to live in public spaces, you don't see them, and you assume they don't exist.



> Since your governments go ahead and remove people who are trying to live in public spaces, you don't see them, and you assume they don't exist.

From this, I assume you aren’t from the UK and don’t actually have any idea about homelessness here?

[Shelter](https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/homelessness) and [Centrepoint](https://centrepoint.org.uk/) are two of the biggest homeless charities here and they do a lot of work and are closely related with the local councils. Maybe do some research, the provide so much good information.

Please also bear in mind, the local councils have a [legal responsibility](https://www.compactlaw.co.uk/free-legal-information/public-h...) to look after homeless in their borough.

And this is purely anecdotal, but a lot of people I know here care a lot about homeless people. Walk around London and see how often you’ll see people buying a homeless person a coffee or some food.

Whereas in the US, I heard a lot of people say that homelessness is a choice and that they should just stop being homeless. Bewildering.

In the US, in San Francisco specifically, many homeless get not just a free coffee, but free needles, methadone, and pretty much a blind eye to all drug circulation downtown. The city spends $300 million on homeless every year, yet in the other thread here they say that SF has more homeless than all of the UK, and that number keeps growing every year. There are people defecating every day in the street around my office in the Financial District, I guess I should start buying them coffee or some food and things will get back on track.

Isn't it obvious that way you pay for, you get more of?

I don't mean that cynically--just seems like common sense.

I imagine it also depends on what it’s being spent on. If it’s not used effectively, no amount of money will make any difference - and as you said probably exacerbate the problem.

Okay? I was talking about your egregious remarks about the homeless situation in London.

It’s by no means peachy, as austerity is making things worse - but it can’t be compared to homelessness in the US where there are barely any social safety nets.

> I guess I should start buying them coffee or some food and things will get back on track.

Comprehension would lend itself well to the context of what I said.

I used to live next to Hyde Park, and one of the subways leading towards the Marble Arch had a group of homeless that stayed there for at least a couple of years without being disturbed by the police. This is not unusual.

In the royal parks, on the other hand, you'd be right - in the Royal parks putting up tents and the like will get the attention of the police very quickly. There are parts of London outside the parts where the police likes to try to make the problem "disappear" by moving people on, but London's homeless problem is overall very visible.

Edinburgh has people living in tents. There was someone I used to see from the bus who lived on a park bench for months, surrounded by a pile of black bags of his stuff. Nicely situated park bench too, just far enough out to be away from the tourists but with a great view of the hills.

I hear reports of a used needle problem but haven't seen any myself.

The problem in northern Europe is not so much that the police will move on people in tents as the winters are colder than SF; Norway has zero long-term street homeless because the winter will kill them quickly.

I wonder how this compares to US cities that gets proper winters, like Detroit, Denver or Minneapolis, etc.

I can say that there are plenty of homeless people in New York. And some do freeze to death each winter, but the city spends a lot of money to avoid that as much as possible.

That's because there are decent welfare systems in most those countries, reducing the scale of the problem to individuals, rather than volunteers trying to mitigate the immediate needs.

My point regarding hypocrisy is more important long term; you're immoral if you're a supporter of the Arsonist party then demanding to forcefully remove all the wildfire refugees because they're causing inconvenience to the "proper" citizens.

Berlin is a bad example and a complete failure, there the drug dealers get assigned special spots in parks so they don't disturb other visitors too much.


As I remember it, the park manager decided to create these zones (And I don't remember reading about a gag order so he could not talk to the press, but rather reading an interview with him, though I can't find it at short notice now). And it's important to note that the park manager is more a lone social worker than anyone really in authority here. And from this point, the solutions does not seem unreasonable. He can't himself get rid of the drug dealers but tried to contain them, that despite them being there the park could be used by other people. Of course that does not solve the problem overall and the city of Berlin surely does so many things wrong, it is reasonable to conclude they could do better here as well, but the story itself seems to get quite blown out of proportion.

Me knowing that homeless people exist and seeing them every day hasn't really done then much good. They're still homeless, the homeless population is increasing, and for our end of the bargain we get public health hazards on every sidewalk and public park.

where are they moved to? Police station/overnight jail? Or a shelter of sorts?

Europe in general has MUCH tougher laws against "anti social" behavior and public nuisances that the homeless by definition of their lifestyle are bound to violate. They also have better safety nets and support systems (shelters, discounted housing, addiction treatment, etc). Details vary by country and city, obviously.

To stereotype the heck out of it:

In the US a homeless person pitches a tent under an overpass and everyone tries their hardest to ignore it.

In Europe a homeless person pitches a tent under an overpass and within the hour the cops show up, rough him up for constructing an unauthorized shelter on the crown's land and then cart him off to a shelter that keeps him a few nights and then sends him on his way with all the support he needs to not be homeless anymore.

An excellent article that beautifully summarizes the frustration of many residents and highlights obvious policy solutions to address them, such as Proposition Q.

>>>Providing the mentally ill with the “liberty” to decompose on the streets is cruelty, not compassion.

The policies employed by Breed’s government misuse resources in a quixotic effort at fighting addiction by providing more means to be addicted. The “need more housing zoning” argument is absurd and employs a fallacious premise that homeless people need to be housed in-situ.

This article provides great relief for residents, homeless folks, and drug-dealing scum.

No, cruelty is _causing_ the problem. Not being unable hide it.

It is strange that this subject gets so much attention but so little actual investigation. It is asserted that San Francisco simply backed off from enforcement and then this happened, but the reality is far more complex. Heavy ongoing use of incarceration caused both a backlash and extreme expense. Troubled people from all over the globe come to San Francisco. Most homeless only stay in the City for a couple of weeks before moving on. Making it sound like deciding to enforce crimes would be easy and cheap and fix the problem is a gross distortion of what is going on and what resources are available.

> Making it sound like deciding to enforce crimes would be easy and cheap and fix ...

San Francisco used to enforce these quality of life laws, and things were different. The thing is that San Franciscans didn’t like that world. Sure, people got in trouble for crapping on the sidewalk, but they didn’t have better places to crap.

Instead of creating better places to crap, San Francisco decided not to hassle people for crapping on the sidewalk. I agree that’s a little more compassionate, but it’s not paradise.

That is extremely incorrect analysis. Nationwide homelessness used to be extremely rare and limited to mostly middle aged men and older women. Now in America homelessness has become common everywhere and we have homeless working families which simply didn't happen before. Back in the 1970s minimum wage would support a small family and modest homes were available in most markets. Blaming San Francisco for this major nationwide change makes no sense at all.

As recently as the mid 1970s simply being black or in a homosexual relationship could get you beaten up and thrown in jail. People rejected this arrangement because it was unfair, unreasonable, and extremely expensive. Then the drug war turned the whole nation into a kind of gulag. Go ahead and object to Chinese treatment of minorities, but we have more in jail here.

Neoliberal economists said that if we just lowered taxes enough there would be plenty of opportunity, but modern capitalism runs lean and fires fast. Even basically competent middle aged men can have trouble, so the larger population which includes people of various genders, ages, and capacities is not doing well. Labor markets are as brutal in America now as during the depression. You can't shred labor markets and leave them in tatters and then whine about how society isn't fixing itself like before.

The appeal to dominance and laws and enforcement is a silly delusion that we will have to get over if we ever want to make progress with this problem for real.

San Francisco certainly did used to enforce quality of life laws, and they certainly have intentionally relaxed that enforcement: “based on the sit/lie ordinance [prohibiting people from sitting or lying on the sidewalk], infractions peaked at 1,011 in 2013, but since that time they have steadily declined, falling to 114 in 2017. ... SFPD's current policy focuses on steering homeless people to shelters, rather than arresting them” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sit-lie_ordinance#San_Francisc... ).

Incidentally, the city believes there are roughly the same number of homeless people today as there were back when they enforced quality of life laws: “The sense that homelessness itself is exploding in San Francisco is not reflected in the city’s numbers. According to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the city’s homeless population has remained essentially flat in recent years. The agency counted 7,499 people experiencing homelessness in 2017, about 2 percent higher than 2013 levels, and slightly lower than in 2015” ( https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/08/san-franciscos-sidewa... ). They claim that back then, there wasn’t crap on the street because people were crapping in vacant buildings. Now, because of the building boom, there aren’t many vacant buildings.

I’m not saying that hassling people for crapping on the street is the right approach. I understand why San Franciscans by and large rejected it. But it absolutely can be done, because that is what they used to do.

So what the city is saying is more people crap on the streets because there is less shelter ? Wow, color me shocked the reason we have problems with homeless people is that they have no shelter. These geniuses are sure to solve this problem !

Deciding to enforce crimes would not fix the problem, but move it somewhere else and/or make it less visible - which is what most other cities are doing...

Well the alternative, not enforcing laws, is clearly not working.

Law enforcement everywhere is about moving crime out to the margins. It will never stamp out all crime, but it does tend to reduce the quantity of it.

And I'm not even convinced that "moving it elsewhere" is necessarily a bad thing. I'd rather have most crime concentrated in a small area than distributing it over a large area. Regardless, people should be allowed to feel safe in their communities, and that just isn't the case for embarrassingly large amounts of SF.

The alternative is building houses. When you put people in houses they cease to be homeless. They did it in Helsinki, and it worked: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/jun/03/its-a-miracle...

Very simple deductive reasoning actually, I wonder how people did not come up with it yet.

>>>No other American city has built as much affordable housing per capita, according to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. From 2004 to 2014, the city spent $2 billion on nearly 3,000 new units of permanent supportive housing.

You’re conflating addressing “housing transience” with addressing “addiction, mental illness, and criminal antisocial behavior”. Additional housing units don’t resolve this problem.

Ever been to a developmental center ? Full of addiction, mental illness and criminal anti-social behavior, at a level completely beyond anything seen in any homeless group, not even close. You know what the answer the local government in the area has done to improve the lives of the people they have had locked away from society since the area has existed? Provided them housing.

I'm curious, what do you suggest should be done? Build more mental health wards? Put everyone behind bars? For how long? What do you do once they're released from prison? Or maybe there should be some sort of camps where they could be rounded up and concentratred away from the city? You obviously have something on your mind, say it.

Here's a different take:


> Called Housing First, the Finnish model aggressively closed homeless shelters, calling them traps

Not really a different take at all. It also notes that the policy is very effective. Close the homeless shelters and hostels, give them housing.

The rest of the part you quote is revealing:

"Finland’s experiment in ending rough sleeping has caught the attention of policymakers for one reason: It’s working.

Called Housing First, the Finnish model aggressively closed homeless shelters, calling them traps, and did not require participants battling addictions to recover before receiving keys to a home."

Moving the problem is the same as fixing the problem. People are choosing to live outside, or they economically can't afford a place to live, or they have mental illness that prevents them from taking care of themselves, or they have addiction that prevents them from taking care of themselves.

For people choosing to live outside, well it's ok for society to demand they follow the rules like everyone else.

For people who can't afford a place to live, displacing them to somewhere else is the best thing you could do, living in SF requires an absurdly high income, if they move to Montana (or Idaho or honestly throw a dart at a map, the US is cheap if you don't try to live in the top 20 most expensive zipcodes) they could rent an apartment for $500/month, which is $250 if you have a roomate. That's less than one week of work at minimum wage. Lots of my friends are software engineers, and are moving to Oakland because SF is too expensive. So my friends with high paying jobs are expected to move, but someone can set up a tent and they have a human right to stay right where they are? It's ludicrous.

For the people with mental illness or an addiction, which is more than 95% of the people living on the street, what fixes the problem? They can't function in their current state, and it's illegal to force them to take medication, and impossible to make them stop doing drugs. Fine, lets provide them with shelter at least. Lets build the shelter somewhere really cheap, and provide them with free transportation to get there. Maybe the same places I mentioned above, where it would be very inexpensive to provide them with food and shelter, which is basically everywhere besides SF. Of course this is again a non-starter, since no matter what you do, literally anything you do at all to help them, unless they are homeless and living on the sidewalk in San Francisco, people are going to claim it's a violation of their human rights.

A New York author suggesting to Californians how to police is a bit... tilting at windmills?

The homeless in NY are extremely pleasant relative to the ones in SF(this wasn't the case in the early 90s though). And NY has multiples of the SF population.

> ongoing effort to decriminalize attacks on civilized order

this article sounds like a drunken conservative rant

And your comment is completely contentless. The author may be ranting, and it may be conservative, but it is clearly not "drunken".

Yeap. Blame the "other": migrants, homeless, minorities, Jews, Muslims, gypsies, gays and other such scapegoats for one's current situation and angsty anomie. Fox News, Newsmax and talk radio rebuilt fascism and millions conveniently pretended it didn't happen.

Why do we expect that people should live in house or have a home?

Maybe we need to design our cities and public places in a way that they would be approachable for people living outside?

Why we wouldn't have camping spots in cities with infrastructure that supports living outside?

>Why do we expect that people should live in house or have a home?

Because we aren't cavemen anymore.

And a tent is a home, just a shabby, crappy, small one.

>Why we wouldn't have camping spots in cities with infrastructure that supports living outside?

Because people also need to eat and poop and shower somewhere, and be protected from the elements, and once you incorporate all that, you get a hostel/shelter.

I'll take your comment as an opportunity to say this:

Yes, we absolutely should have more infrastructure for the homeless.

Let's have public baths, public toilets, storage facilities, communal kitchens perhaps. Internet access (libraries do that, but that shouldn't be the only place).

Travelers would appreciate many of these as well.

Have you ever camped in a camping spot somewhere? You get electricity, bathrooms, access to kitchen etc.

If we could accept the fact that some people want to live on the streets, we would be able to make their life much easier and better without imposing a certain philosophy on how they should be living.

Civilization is exactly about imposing a philosophy on how people should live. Like it or not, that's how it works. If you don't want to play ball, there are plenty of open spaces in the US where people can live off the land without creating a public health hazard.

If people don't want to be homeless, we should do everything in our power to help them get into housing, sustainably. But if they do? No thanks, do that somewhere else, where the land can be reasonably and cost-effectively set up to support that. One of the most expensive, highly-regulated real estate markets in the US is not that place.

Philosophy on how people should live is not a set in stone.

It's a moving target and it should be moving in a direction of achieving the best outcome for everyone, regardless if they're investment bankers or heroin addicts.

People thinking like you have been trying to stop progress since we got down from the trees. It's this ridiculous idea that how things are now is something that has to be kept and preserved.

It is a disservice to humanity - those ideas never survive history test, just cause better future for everyone to come later than it could.

> People thinking like you have been trying to stop progress since we got down from the trees. It's this ridiculous idea that how things are now is something that has to be kept and preserved.

Wait, aren't you the one arguing people should move back up into the trees? Well, not even the trees, you are just arguing they should live on the ground, and even our primitive primate ancestors weren't stupid enough to want to do that.

I'm arguing that everyone should be living as close to how they want as possible

Yeah, most people actually love to be homeless and live in tents. The housing crisis isn't real.

So it is society to blame for one’s decision to not be employed, be addicted to intoxicants, and behave feral? The grandiose entitlement certainly is real.

Yeah, how dare people want to sleep in a bed under a roof. So entitled.

>Have you ever camped in a camping spot somewhere? You get electricity, bathrooms, access to kitchen etc.

There are many people for which the definition of camping specifically excludes those things.

But how am I going to plug in all this stuff I got from Skymall?

This is some Olympics-level mental gymnastics. Have you considered most of these people don't _want_ to be sleeping outside and only do so because circumstances drove them to? Like maybe going bankrupt from healthcare, or some other reason?

>Why do we expect that people should live in house or have a home?

Because we're not animals, and have lived in at least caves since 10.000 years or more...

Also because it's 2019, and there's no excuse.

Maybe you could try some living in "camping spots in cities" in winter, for example?

Why should we expect people to have affordable healthcare? Why should we expect people to have enough to eat? Why should we expect people to have rights? Can't we just let people die outside from the cold or something?

Yeah, why not kill them outright? Humanely of course! Problem solved! Out of sight (in a ditch), out of mind!

/adding to the parent sarcasm

People do not want to live on the streets in tents. Tents are just not suitable for permanent life even at the latitude of San Francisco.

The UK and Ireland have the "traveller" community. They are basically non-Roma gypsies, the descendants of nomadic Irish tinkers. Even they do not live in tents. They live in caravans. A few still have the traditional wooden painted horse-drawn ones, although generally those only appear for special occasions like funerals. Mostly it's modern caravans and motorhomes.

There used to be fields provided for them on the edge of towns, but the inevitable social conflicts have caused those to be reduced to almost no provision.

Roughly every news article I’ve read about homelessness includes an interview with somebody who doesn’t like the rules at a local shelter and is, in some way, voluntarily on the street. I know the intention is to suggest that “build more shelters” won’t help everyone, but since it shows up in every single article, I think it gives people a very distorted view of things.

Setting up camping-like facilities to serve the entire homeless population would likely turn every park in the city into an always-populated campsite. Pretty sure that's not what we want.

who are "we" that don't want that? The homeless population would definitely want that.

I don't see how this would change anything. Isn't what you are proposing essentially what the shelters are, essentially without the roof?

Take children playgrounds for example - you have them where you have a lot of families with kids, right? And that makes sense since that is kind of public infrastructure supporting the needs of a certain population.

However, homeless people are not considered as population, they're considered as aberration. If we consider them as just another population we need to support with public services, maybe every neighborhood would have facilities for homeless population, like you have facilities for pets owners, parents, as you have parks, bike trails, etc.

Kids playgrounds are nice because they are not a health risk to anyone.

Shelters are there. And in shelters they get all they need. How is this different from a campground? The only difference you are talking about is that in campings they would have a tent instead of a roof, unless I am missing something. Homeless people don't want to go in. They don't want to give up drugs. How do you think that providing a "camping" playground would solve the problems?

You don't get it. Why would they need to quit drugs or go somewhere? If we want that, we're capable to put them by force where ever we want. We're also able to put them on drug rehab by force if we want to.

But the point is something else. If it turns out homeless people are assembling under the bridge, redo the bridge to be liveable or create something nearby that would attract them to go and live there. If they're throwing trash around, put people there to collect trash or create an environment where it would be easier to dispose trash in a safe way. Money is beint spent to assimilate homeless people and it's obviously not working.

Don't tell me that a country who put a man on Moon can't deliver sanitary service to millions citizens so they have to shit on the streets?

City Journal is pretty weird. It used to be a mainstream magazine of urban planning, but now it seems to have been infected with the far-right brain virus.

Edit: I also can't believe that an article on San Francisco homelessness never once mentions zoning laws.

I'm not aware of the local news outlets or leanings, but my visits over the last few years are pretty consistent with what I've read in this article. It's an undeniable problem and the current response is clearly not working.

I'm quite curious, what did you find far-right about this article? I thought it was quite centrist, moderate, gentle.

Far-right isn't a synonym for bad, aggressive, abrasive (although in practice many people would argue that the two are linked, and that could explain why some people tend to recoil from the term even though they hold similar positions, such as all the people beginning their sentence with I'm pretty left-wing, but... but I digress). Just because a text is moderate and gentle in tone doesn't mean it's not heavily slanted one way or another in content. In this case it's very easy to see the right-wing slant through the cracks of the 'gentle' tone.

How is talking about an obvious problem a far-right brain virus?

It’s not. Just a straw man argument avoiding the deeper truths which the article is exposing and the commenter is disinclined to admit.

The brain-worms comes in at the otherizing rhetoric. They're "homeless", not people without homes; they're besieging us, making us hostages.

I love this quote: > The city enables the entire homeless lifestyle, not just drug use. Free food is everywhere.

It's clear the author is happy with their hierarchical position and thinks that those below them ought to die in the streets.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact