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Thursday, June 2, 2016

City Spends $20 Million a Year Pursuing the Homeless

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2016 at 5:26 PM

click to enlarge Call the cops. - MIKE KOOZMIN/SF WEEKLY FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/SF Weekly file photo
  • Call the cops.

San Francisco spends $18.5 million a year chasing homeless people with police, who are currently the city's de-facto homeless response team, a recent city report found.

In all, the city spends $20.6 million enforcing a total of 36 "quality of life" laws like bans on camping and sleeping on the sidewalk, according to a report from the city's independent Budget and Legislative Analyst.

And guess what? The people who commit these "quality of life" offenses are almost always one of the city's 6,686 homeless people. And somehow, violations of these offenses jumped 34.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, while the homeless population increased only 3.9 percent (however, an outlier from other city reports, this one found a marked increase in the number of homeless people on the streets, as opposed to shelters).

How can this be? Per the usual, we have nobody but ourselves to blame: Perhaps egged on by any number of media reports vilifying street people, there has been a large uptick of outraged citizens calling 311 and 911 — yes, 911 — to report the presence of homeless people, the report found.

And nearly all of the calls for service are utterly pointless. 

Between January and November of last year, there were 60,491 reports of homeless activity, according to the city's Department of Emergency Management.

Police were dispatched to an incident 57,249 times, leading to 125 arrests and at least 4,711 citations (the number could be higher, but the city's data is bad).

This did lead to a total of 62 homeless people doing a total of 78 days in jail for violating nothing more than a quality of life law. That's just a little more than one overnight stay each, but still: We are locking up homeless people for being homeless.

Much more often, nothing at all happens — as in the cops can't find any wrongdoing. Responding to 15,614 calls, "Police Officers were unable to locate alleged violators," the report found. 

You can't really blame the police for this one. Per law, police must respond to a call if the incident is "unresolved." And police are currently the only city resource dispatched when someone calls 911 or 311 to report a violation of one of the quality of life laws.

About those laws. 


There are a lot of them. One of the most-recent, the sit-lie law, was passed by voters in 2010 after a campaign in which supporters included then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and then-police Chief George Gascon, who is now the district attorney. That was passed in 2010.

So. The homeless problem is indeed getting worse. Calling the cops on the homeless is not helping anything. But we're getting better at calling the cops on the homeless. Pejorists rejoice.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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