WATCHING CITY HALL
by h. brown
|The poor will always be with us.
|— A disciple counseling Jesus Christ, Son of God (to some),
that even he could not do anything about the homeless.
Ten ways to clear drunks, addicts & crazies off your front porch,
with the help of Thomas Hobbes:
1. Keep the bars open 24 hours. Especially in bad neighborhoods.
2. Install those coffin-looking sleeping compartments (they looked
like berths on an old Pullman train but more spartan & with plastic
lids) — the units they used in Japan (maybe still do) in the 1950s &
1960s. The office workers would work sixteen hour days, then sleep in
the coffins, and only go home on weekends. They kept these things at
train stations & bus terminals & police stations, anywhere with 24-hour
3. In the Independent’s Old Town column (beautifully written by
Matthew Brady) there was a description about how San Franciscans handled
drunks during and after the Gold Rush period. Apparently, they had board
sidewalks raised over the sometimes-muddy dirt streets. They simply
hinged sections of the sidewalks & the bouncers and constables shoveled
the inebriates on under to sleep it off.
4 & 5. Hammock & cocoon parks. The lightest traveler I ever met in my
years on the road was clean & neat & had only a small knapsack. His bed
was a small mesh hammock & his cover was one of those space blankets
that fold up to be about the size of a gang bandanna. We could make
areas in parks with steel posts suitable for hanging your hammock. Or
drive metal eyehooks into the rock outcroppings along the coast & let
them hang. That way they could be seen only from the sea or the bay. Put
the parks next to …
6, 7 & 8. Combination Soilent Green / soap factory / suicide parlors.
9. Hunting licenses. Lots of De Young Museum contributors who would
never shoot a lion or a tiger would leap at the chance to legally take
out some lunatic who defiles their stoop or a particularly obnoxious
panhandler. You’d probably be more than a little surprised at what a
license to legally whack one of these critters would bring at an auction
(or political fundraiser!)
10. For a small additional charge, the Department of Rec & Park will
mount the rascal’s head on a handsome hardwood plaque. Imagine your
friends’ jealousy when they realize it was you who bagged the local
But really, folks …
Our homeless problem in San Francisco is simple. We are sitting on a
small peninsula, in a Mediterranean climate in the richest city of the
richest country in the world. Land costs more per square foot than
anywhere on earth. There are so many reasons to want to live here. The
city doesn’t care who you screw or what insane political views people
your mental landscape. The city speaks most of the languages on earth.
Most here believe the city has the smartest, most creative, varied &
best-looking population on earth. You Can’t freeze here or die of heat
stroke. And on. And on. We are, as they say, very high on the demand &
very low on the supply curves vis-à-vis livable space. Naturally, the
Attracted to the potential profits are every type of real estate
predator. From the guy with the four-family flat who spends hundreds of
hours trying to destroy rent-control & legalize unrestricted
condo-conversion, to Walter Shorenstein , who has an entire clip of
lawyers whose sole purpose is to increase his wealth by lowering the
appraisals on his skyscrapers (done through Doris Ward’s office where
the books are kept by Arthur Andersen) and getting back the few taxes he
pays (done by approval of a 9-2 Board of Supervisors vote — Gonzalez &
Daly dissenting) … to Vijay Patel who simply illegally tossed about 100
poor folks out of the West Cork Hotel & tried to make it into a tourist
hotel. Small-time Patel, who pales before David Raynel’s efforts for
Skyline Realty. Huge capital expenditures passed on to poor tenants
through loopholes. Upgrade, buyouts. Studios doubling and tripling in
rent. Ya getting it?
What happens is that the people who used to fill Tenderloin
apartments with bunkbeds are out. As tighter leases and tighter security
& oversight bring down the population of these buildings by the
thousands … where they gonna go?
The best leave
Dancers, musicians, artists, poets, hippies, writers … gone by the
thousands just since Willie Brown became mayor. For blacks it’s worse.
They’ve been forced out by the tens of thousands. Those with energy &
confidence & friends & family & skills & vision … they’ve moved on.
The worst wounded stay
The drunks & junkies you see all over the streets were always here.
They just had a place to live & did their disgusting things indoors. The
mental patients Reagan put out to pasture in the early 1980s used to be
able to pay rent with their government checks & have enough left for
toilet paper. No more. To the streets. What to do?
Jim Reid to the rescue
Almost every day you see an article in this paper or that about how
Bank of America or some such entity has decided to help build more
housing for “middle-income” people who “only” make $80k to $120k a year.
They’re building out the available space in high-end living space.
Almost nothing is being built for low income. The rich pull every string
possible at City Hall & in the captive press to force through projects
devoted to gentrification.
To the point.
Jim Reid, a hell of a builder, designer & political dilletante has
designed, built & displayed across from City Hall, a modular mini
efficiency-living unit for the homeless. For under $10,000 (last year’s
prices) Reid put together a space with sleeping, shower & toilet &
kitchen area. The whole thing is maybe 100 square feet. You look inside
at all those new fixtures & it’s like stepping into a well-designed
luxury camper unit. You could put hundreds of these things in the Armory
on Mission. Three thousand of them for people now on the street would
run $30 million with probably another$15 million for hook-ups. About
what the mayor spends on special assistants (or whatever they’re calling
them now). These units can certainly last until the city builds 50,000
living units for people who make $10k to $20k a year. We should have a
moratorium on building any other price level of housing until those
50,000 units are completed.
The board should be happy they didn’t let the Treasure Island
Development people tear down the old Navy brig there. I don’t see the
rich letting up on their pressure to take over all of the livable space
here & build new housing only for the upscale. Therefore, more of the
self-reliant, non-material-oriented population of San Francisco (its
soul) will continue to leave and those who cannot will take to the
streets where their very existence will become a criminal act. San
Francisco will become the world’s first major “Gated City.”
I’m thirsty: firstname.lastname@example.org