The creation of “Safe Sleeping” areas in San Francisco is not a progressive solution to the city’s homeless crisis. It does nothing to deal with the root causes of homelessness, and without the proper tools in place to deal with those root causes, the homeless “districts” will turn into internment camps. It is more comforting for the average citizen in San Francisco allow the homeless population to be hidden behind gated barriers then actually confront and deal with the crisis in a justifiable, humane manner. History is judged through a moral lens. Those of us living in San Francisco in 2020 will be looked upon as a an extremely wealthy populous (with staggering inequality) who instead of seeking concrete solutions to homelessness, that could serve as an example to the rest of the United States, decided to continue living in decadence while we walled off the most disenfranchised among us inside gated communities. Gated communities designed to keep people in.
The latest uproar of “Safe Sleeping” areas is currently happening in the old Stanyan McDonald’s parking a lot, which has always been considered one of the more sanitary and peaceful spots in the city. The local neighborhood is suing the city to prevent using the lot as a location for a new Safe Sleeping area, akin to the one already being used near the Asian Art Museum and the Library in the Tenderloin. This group also happened to choose a law firm with solid progressive credentials for their cause, however, upon review they decided against using the law firm. It seems Amoeba Music and Harmeet Dhillon don’t see eye to eye. The district supervisor proudly flaunts his compassion for the homeless in the area; there are many. Golden Gate Park and Haight Street have always been a magnet for homeless and transient people. This is causing a similar uproar to when the Navigation Center was placed on the Embarcadero next to multimillionaire dollar condos.
Compassion for the homeless is the discussion here, not the NIMBY attitude of the Haight locals that has probably exacerbated the homeless crisis. On first glance, the “Safe Sleeping” areas appear to be a compassionate way to deal with the homeless situation during the middle of the health crisis brought on by SARS-CoV-2. Provide an area for the homeless in the city to place their tents, and then provide adequate sanitary facilities to the area so that they are able to maintain a minimal level of cleanliness to cut down on the virus’s rapid spread through the homeless population. As a temporary solution, until the health crisis has diminished, it will help, and the NIMBYs can instead pressure the DA to do his job and prosecute criminal behavior caused by the camps. However, it could also create an incubator that increases the amounts of Covid-19 cases, HIV cases through shared needles, and overdoses, as the homeless population is slowly rounded up (by gentle, nudging methods) and placed into camps with poor services.
As an American, I recoil at the term “rounding up”. It is anathema to The Enlightenment principles our country was founded on. Unfortunately, principles to do not always equate action (here, here, here, here, etc.). Are the City of San Francisco officials proposing rounding up homeless? It seems that way. What do you do after you round people up? You have to put them someplace. Some sort of internment facility. That’s what these safe sleeping areas will eventually develop into if a permanent solution is not developed. We know that the city does not have a solution for the homeless crisis, and the elected officials know that the average person walking down the street is sick of avoiding human defecation. A simple plan is to slowly intern the homeless population of the city in little “sanctuary districts” where they can sleep in peace and not bother the constituents and donors. Out of sight, out of mind. As long as these encampments are enclosed behind some sort of barrier, and are not readily seen by the average San Francisco denizen, eventually these camps will disappear into the background.
Won’t there be an increase in crime as described in the Haight St. lawsuit? Well, concentrating the homeless in a localized spot in the city enables the police to concentrate their efforts. It makes it easier to control the population. As the health crisis diminishes (or not), and the camps will blend into the background behind tarped fences. The homeless internment camps will be normalized and San Francisco’s political class will have miraculously solved the homeless crisis. The average person will complain about the camps, but walk past them everyday like they do the Navigation Center on the Embarcadero. The average resident feigns caring about the homeless. In reality, they don’t want to deal with it or see it. They want to go about their day without having to be reminded that San Francisco’s Gini coefficient is worse than Rwanda’s. These camps will circumvent the legal framework required to put a person in some sort of facility such as a mental health institution or a jail because they will claim that the people are free to come and go, which they will be. At first they will be free to go. Eventually, as the camps make the homeless crisis more invisible to the average voter, the political class could potentially develop the legal framework for the state to force average homeless citizens into these facilities. Once again America will have been ensnared into the trap of unjustifiably and unconstitutionally interning human beings that are not powerful enough to defend themselves.
Why is this of concern in San Francisco? Well, it is considering a liberal bastion or liberal hellhole depending on who you talk to. As a leader for progressive ideas in the United States such as paid sick leave, mandatory parental leave, universal healthcare, etc. it is disturbing to think that its solution for the homeless crisis is to round up human beings and place them in slums. We have one of the most educated regions in the United States, we claim to be loyal to data driven solutions and problem solvers, however, in the face of a persistent human catastrophe on our front doors we have provided no solid solution. Instead, we are taking the easy path, and history will judge us for it, and people will suffer.