FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Homeless Industries in San Francisco

by BINOY KAMPMARK

It is a condition that the United States has given a particular meaning to.  From being the light on the hill for liberty, the American vision has become a case of survival on the streets.  Homeownership, even renting, is a privilege.  Welfare is set for the chop.  Food stamp recipients have been branded creatures of indulgent ill-fare.  The homeless are being rounded upon.

Even such havens of well-tempered affluence such as San Francisco are marked not merely by the sizeable population of homelessness (6,436 by one count) but the increasing numbers who are joining their ranks.  Rent prices are on the rise.  Eviction notices in San Francisco have hit a 12-year high.

What stands out in the problem of homelessness is that its solutions have themselves become part of the industrial complex that many of its activists decry. Governments and the non-profit system are bound by a system that has become the context of its own existence.  San Francisco demonstrates this to a tee.

Bevan Dufty of the city’s department of Housing, Opportunity, Partnership and Engagement has been less than enthusiastic about whether the shelter system will be expanded.  This is despite his admission that shelter beds have been lost.  With a bureaucrat’s awareness, Dufty’s response has been one of management speak: one has to “have a toolbox to respond in different ways.”

In response to the recent removal of a homeless encampment under the Interstate 280 highway, Dufty claimed that “we’re trying something new, and its about getting the people on the right path.”

Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness has observed that the shelter waitlist system is “archaic” as it is.  “People spend 17 hours a day trying to get a bed at night.”  Suggestions have been made as to how to open up the system.  Homelessness Czar Dufty has not been responsive.

The city budget in San Francisco, awaiting approval by the Board of Supervisors, does include funding for families and individuals facing homelessness.  Last Thursday, some $2.4 million was slated as “add-backs” to services for the homeless, along with the $2.3 million pledged by Major Ed Lee to stem the increasing number of families and individuals facing homelessness (SF Bay Guardian, Jul 2).  This is far from enough, though the problem as ever is not necessarily how much is put into the programs but how it is spent.

The critics of the system also see homelessness as an opportunity for the morally insipid, or at the very least, the disingenuous.  Ethnographic work such as Teresa Gowan’s Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders:hoboshomeless Homeless in San Francisco (2010) shows how the entire approach to the homeless in San Francisco can be centred around such themes as “authoritarian medicalisation” and gradual criminalisation of various practices.  The Matrix program, to take one sterling example, fined people for panhandling, public urination, sleeping in doorways and blocking sidewalks.

Tactics have been implemented to keep the “sightless” presence of the homeless away from wealthier residents. The Silicon Valley complex is as much a curse, creating deep pockets at one end while emptying those at the other.  What can’t be seen can’t hurt you.

Recent attention has also been drawn to the increased number of gay homeless individuals in San Francisco.  As Ian Burrell writing for The Independent (Jul 1) observed, “It’s built a reputation as the most gay-friendly on earth. But the mask is slipping.”  The Human Services Agency of San Francisco (SF-HSA) recently revealed that 29 percent of the city’s homeless population stem from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.  Even being in a shelter is no consolation from being free from violence.

Where there is a problem, there is bound to be an industry rather than a solution.  It is inherent in any such response that no solutions shall ever be found.  One needs the other.  As with any industry, some are well meaning, others indifferent, and many ruthlessly ambitious.  Social working clans have proliferated. Programs are not solutions.

As Gowan has explained, each institution has its own taxonomy, its own range of terms to identify the problematic homeless specimen.  “Doctors diagnose them as depressive, social workers treat them as chaotic addicts, and police officers treat them as impediments to the quality of life of other San Franciscans.”

Seemingly everything has been proposed, from creating “wet houses” to pay the homeless to take care of rescue dogs, to Homeless soccer, a curious panacea that emphasises healthy living.  The geniuses of the homeless industry will have to do better than that, but the incentives to cure it are vanishing.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail