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Sunday 09 April 2017

The Shame of San Francisco: Proposition Q

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 16th November 2016

While there are considerable protests going on in the United States against the 'bad president' over half of them did not want, gay mecca San Francisco has just passed a shameful, punitive civic ordinance that bans homeless tent shelters on the streets. It is disgusting that this happened in a metropolitan centre that should have been far more inclusive and compassionate than this and I utterly condemn it.

Proposition Q banned the use of tents as shelter against the elements on public sidewalks by homeless people, and authorising their removal while placing the homeless individuals within temporary accomodation facilities. It received fifty two percent of the civic vote (132,209 people) against forty seven percent (118,209). It penalises LGBTI homeless as well as others, and is needlessly punitive against the mentally ill, who may have nowhere else to go. Why didn't we learn anything about this within the LGBTI media, given that LGBT individuals, especially LGBTI youth, are particularly subjected to expulsion from the family home and lack of permanent residence? This is absolutely inexcusable. I was aware that there had been considerable gentrification going on, and that civic conservatism was the rule in that city, but this is a worrying indication that the core of the US LGBTI community has lost sight of the social dimension of human rights. Fortunately, the Coalition on Homeless (against Proposition Q) and the chair of the California Democratic Party were amongst its opponents, and the Coalition included LGBTI individual and organisational members, so it wasn't a complete disgrace.

TheBay Area Reporterwas one valiant exception to this general rule and ran articles on what Proposition Q was about. According to proponents and apologists for the measure, tent encampments harboured rape, disease, and unsanitary conditions, as well as obstructing the sidewalk. The federal and state government and city administration should provide adequate housing. Should, but aren't, responded the opponents of Proposition Q. In any case, homeless shelters only provide temporary accomodation, which may not be appropriate for women or LGBTI youth, given how inadequately regulated such facilities are.

San Francisco city supervisors were split on the issue. One supervisor argued for the measure, while several of his colleagues opposed it. Opponents claimed that there was no desire on the part of Proposition Q's proponents for permanent housing solutions in adequate subsidised accomodation and that Proposition Q was solely intended to victimise the homeless without any convincing or durable outcomes that would benefit them. As evidence, the Coalition on Homelessness cited a twenty four hour warrant to vacate their tent premises and waiting lists for shelter access already, as well as for tuberculosis clearance that would provide them with shelter access. Lice, fleas and firecode requirements were cited as one deterrent for tent occupants not to move into shelter settings.

GLIDE San Francisco was another LGBT opponent of Proposition Q. It noted that the Proposition only provided for a single nights shelter access and therefore no real remedy to the question of homelessness. They would not permanently remove homeless people from the street environment, and while civic law enforcement money was wasted on this and other "quality of life' measures, it would therefore not be spent on issues like durable or permanent social housing needs. Moreover, the Coalition to End Homelessness added, city voters had voted down a sales tax that would have paid for additional social housing. This may have been because it was financed largely by wealthy city investors who had no such intention of providing realistic solutions but only cared about their property values, said one media source. A Sequoia Capital chair, hedge investment broker and others donated $US 50,000 each to Proposition Q's campaign organisers.

Unfortunately, Proposition Q is one of a series of anti-homelessness measures that have been proposed within that city over the last two decades. As Julia Wong (16.10.2016) noted in her article on the Proposition and its detractors, the San Francisco Hotel Council ran a billboard campaign against homeless beggars in 2001 that provided penalties for begging that was allegedly tied to 'drug abuse' or sexually transmitted infections. In 2010, there was a second campaign to ban homeless individuals from sitting or lying on the adjacent sidewalk. Local business associations supported Proposition Q, while local community service organisations opposed it.

How is this relevant to New Zealand? Auckland Council has proposed similar punitive measures in the past, against both transgender street sex workers and beggars. Thankfully, the Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places (Manukau City Council) Bill was defeated, and the anti-begging ordinance went nowhere. However, LGBTI individuals and our organisations need to realise that not all homeless people are straight or cisgender. Moreover, until the Crown Law Office opinion's applicability to accomodation rights is dealt with, homeless transgender individuals are particularly vulnerable. San Francisco's Proposition Q is a stark lesson. It should never be allowed to happen here.


Seth Himmelgarn: "SF Propositions target homeless, crime issues'Bay Area Reporter: 22.09.2016:http://www.ebar. com/news/article.php?sec=news& article=71900

GLIDE: "Why I am voting No on Proposition Q" 16.10.2016:https://glidesf. i-am-voting-no-on-prop-q/

Kevin Fagan: "Voters opposing SF tents, supporting housing for the homeless" SF Gate: 08.11.2016:http://www.sfgate. com/politics/article/S-F- homelessness-measures- Election-2016-10593985.php

Julia Wong: "Wealthy San Francisco tech investors bankroll attempt to ban homeless tents" Guardian 12.10.2016:https://www. oct/12/san-francisco-homeless- proposition-q-tech-investors

Craig Young - 16th November 2016

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