Advocates for homeless question proposals' timing

NATIONAL CLOSEUP

October 30, 1994|By Rachel Gordon | Rachel Gordon,San Francisco Examiner

SAN FRANCISCO -- Advocates for the homeless say it's no coincidence that San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan's first comprehensive proposals for getting people off the streets and into jobs, housing and treatment came just three weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

On Election Day, voters will decide whether to endorse his two tough ballot measures to strengthen welfare rules and regulate behavior on the streets.

The mayor's critics say they may support the concepts in the plan released Oct. 19, but they're skeptical of his timing.

"I think he really wants to create the perception that he's not making vicious attacks on homeless people, that he has a caring, compassionate plan," said Malika Saada Saar of the Coalition on Homelessness. "What he's making is a segregation between worthy homeless people who he thinks deserve help and unworthy homeless people who he sees as criminals."

Mr. Jordan says he does not see his ballot proposals as repressive, but rather as tools to hold people accountable.

They are the latest in a long string of similar measures and administrative policies.

Proposition M would ban people from sitting or lying on sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; Proposition N would force people receiving city-administered General Assistance benefits to apply a portion of their monthly welfare check toward rent.

Mr. Jordan said both measures are intended to improve the quality of life in the city.

"What I want is a livable city, where people feel safe in their neighborhoods, where people adhere to a certain standard and play by the rules," he said. "I also want to make sure that the money we spend is used for what it is intended."

Mr. Jordan's proposed anti-lounging law, supported strongly by downtown business leaders and more tepidly by merchant activists in the neighborhoods, comes on the heels of successful ballot measures to ban aggressive panhandling and prevent loitering around cash-dispensing machines.

The no-sit, no-lie proposal would target not just street people sipping cheap wine on a downtown sidewalk, but also well-groomed yuppies enjoying a latte on a curb in tonier neighborhoods.

The measure says the law "shall be applied in a nondiscriminatory manner and not based upon a person's appearance."

"Is the mayor really going to arrest someone sitting on a sidewalk sipping a cappuccino?" asked attorney John Crew, who runs the police practices project for the regional American Civil Liberties Union. "The target of this law will be homeless people, whom Jordan has gone after for the past three years with his round-them-up, sweep-them-away policies."

Mr. Jordan said his intent is not to target homeless people: "I don't care if the person is homeless or not. If someone is sitting or lying on a sidewalk, that hurts the business district."

Current law prohibits people from blocking access on a sidewalk.

The mayor's second measure does target homeless people.

Some 3,000 of the 15,000 people on General Assistance rolls identify themselves as homeless. Mr. Jordan wants to make sure that the money they receive from the city is applied to the basics, which he identified as food and housing.

Under the proposal, those who can't prove they have a permanent residence could be enrolled in a program in which the city would deduct up to $280 from their $345-a-month checks to apply toward rent, leaving about $65 in cash and another $100 or so in food stamps to pay for everything else. Those who refuse to participate could be kicked off welfare rolls.

One of the biggest criticisms is over where they would live. Some residential hotels are plagued with health and safety problems. The law stipulates that minimum standards must be met -- a promise Mr. Jordan vowed to enforce.

But opponents, including the General Assistance Advocacy Project and Travelers Aid, fear that enforcement of building codes would be lax, forcing the poor to live in substandard housing.

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