Debra (“Mama”) Lujan makes news (again)

DebraLujanPhoto: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle.  Debra Lujan, who is homeless, works on a painting on the sidewalk as she sits along 13th Street near her tent on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif.

February 22, 2016

Timidity, a lack of ideas, or political paralysis. Pick a reason for San Francisco officialdom’s arms-folded response to scores of sidewalk homeless tents sprouting across the city.

The tents are in no way acceptable, yet little changes as the problem spreads and takes hold. The encampments harbor crime, disease and mental health troubles. Nearby businesses protest that customers feel harassed and shun their stores. Getting help for the homeless can’t happen when tent occupants drift along in a netherworld under freeways and along side streets. The problem needs direct action, which Mayor Ed Lee and other leaders have avoided for too long.

HELPING THE HOMELESS

Ana Held (center), who is homeless, looks out the entrance of her tent along 13th Street at the activity outside on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. Mayor needs to address homeless and hecklers John Pobuda prepares to go out on an errand from his encampment along Division Street Feb. 17, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. Lone voice of dissent on homeless piece Kristin Vanscoy sits on her stuff while preparing to move after she and others who have been living along the sidewalk for months said that the police told them to move from their spot along Division Street Feb. 17, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. Tent city on Division starting to intimidate neighbors Nicolas Molina (l to r), laborer Avalon Tents, and Francisco Cifuentes, foreman Avalon Tents, work together as they set up a large tent for a temporary homeless shelter on Pier 80 on Friday, January 15, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. Homeless saying no to new Pier 80 shelter

A new homeless facility with 150 beds is ready at Pier 80, taking away the argument that there are no alternatives to tent living. Day-to-day health sweeps by the Department of Public Works to clean waste, scoop up litter and remove syringes aren’t a serious answer. Adding outhouses or wash facilities are stop-gap ideas, not solutions. And please, let’s stop donating tents that perpetuate a dire situation.

Removal is the overdue option. That doesn’t mean rough tactics, abusive treatment or jail time. But a firm and forceful response is in order as an unhealthy and dangerous situation grows worse by the day.

A string of city agencies including police, fire, public health, human services and public works should be on notice about their duties in this situation. Mayor Lee is taking the long view: coaxing tent campers to move to the Pier 80 temporary shelter while he works on plans for more permanent housing. He needs to combine this vision with more immediate relief that stops the encampments.

Suggesting an end to the tents brings criticism about the city’s heartlessness or the claim that the problem will only be spread, not solved. But these knocks aren’t fair.

San Francisco is spending $241 million per year to house and treat thousands of formerly homeless who have moved indoors. The city is showing imagination and thoroughness in launching another homeless program that picks up entire groups of homeless campers along with their belongings and even pets for counseling and assistance aimed at getting them off the streets. Their chances for better lives are greatly improved by such programs and shelter systems.

Allowing people to inhabit flimsy tents pitched on curbs and dirt lots is an inhumane response, not a tolerant one. San Francisco needs to fold the tent cities.

–San Francisco Chronicle

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