Earlier today I received an e-mail and link from a colleague that simply read, “Take a look. Sad.”
I am so very grateful to my colleague for sharing this article. I consider this one of the few well-written ‘attempts to be honest without looking for cheap shock value’ articles I have seen about this issue – especially from ‘The Bay Area’s Source for Breaking News…’ I applaud Heather Knight for her effort to bring a thought-provoking perspective to the crisis. In typical Chronicle fashion though, many of the statistics look like they were cited from, well, probably Wikipedia.
The San Francisco numbers mentioned are relatively accurate FOR 2017. While still not published on the City Government’s official web page (Homeless Population), the new numbers have been tallied for the 2019 Point-In-Time count and allege an increase in the problems of homelessness and drug abuse of 17% to 24%. Maybe the Chronicle is taking the position that “Well, they’re not final yet and we don’t really know if it’s that high, even though etiquette like that has not stopped us before, let’s just bury our heads in the sand a while longer and use the two-year-old numbers.”
Trust me – it’s that high.
Whatever the reason, it really doesn’t matter. The numbers from 2017 are almost meaninglessly high and the 2019 numbers indicate they are trending upward – steeply. That’s all that is important and for now, all we really need to know. I raise that question because I believe this is a part of the problem: coverage of this issue tends to sensationalize and overstate or inaccurately understate the reality of the situation.
There have been many journalistic attempts to cover the addiction and homeless problems here in our City of San Francisco, most of them simply not worth the ‘paper they are written on,’ regurgitating the condition, criticizing the symptoms, presenting a fallacious argument, and jumping right to partial conclusions about what’s wrong with the system… but really offering no solid, logical, implementable plan towards a solution.
Our City, like many others, does run a ‘Street Team.’ Not being able to help because of a lack of physical resources like ‘beds available,’ is only one of the many ‘symptoms’ of the problem that exists, not a ‘cause’ as many of these articles seem to imply. There is a big difference. Perhaps the City, the Chronicle, everyone who has a stake – that’s every one of us who lives here – should perhaps look at it from a little different perspective? Maybe approach the problem in a different way?
There are physical resources AND people willing to help but the problem is so extraordinarily overwhelming that the physical and social assets available, like the Street Teams, barely rate a notice. Sooner or later, you have to ask yourself, “How in the hell do these people keep showing up and doing what they do every night?” I can tell you that from my perspective, it’s sure as hell not about the money or the public gratitude!
I would suggest San Francisco honestly asks itself the question, “WHY is the problem so large that it overwhelms our ability to help those who need it most?”
Perhaps there should be a follow-up article about how difficult it is to admit into Delancey street? Readers may find the reasons why a little shocking. It’s human nature to look for somewhere to place blame, but this is an extremely complex issue with an extremely challenging countenance, and the magnitude of the related issues is so great that even the ‘helpers’ have to take precautions so as to not be overrun.
It is the entire conglomerate of variegated issues that needs to be openly and honestly identified, owned, and addressed.
It sounds so obviously elementary to say this, but there is no ‘one solution.’ There is no ‘magic pill.’ The Street Teams, like the work that Delancey Street does, are amazing – but the street teams are nothing more than a management tool, just like the NARCAN that they carry. It brings the patient back to life – but the patient is not cured. So, what is the answer? More NARCAN?
I want to commend Knight (2019) for the following observation on the comparative approaches to the problem by these neighboring Bay Area counties. Her indictment of, “…both the overly accepting progressive policies of San Francisco and the harsh law-and-order stance of bordering San Mateo County, two counties that fail in their own ways to deal with the overwhelming drug problems on our streets and two counties that won’t admit those failures…” is refreshing and deserves recognition. Other counties and other countries may not have figured it out either, but maybe there’s something we can learn from? At least it would be a start.
It seems the programs in Portugal are having greater success than anything that’s been tried or conceived of in the United States (Bejekal & Fonseca, 2018), but the Portugal program too, is not without its issues. To better understand what I mean, I suggest comparing the approach of Portugal to the approaches taken by UTAH (toward homelessness) and the apparent “shock” that the State is now in as a result of the celebratory acceptance of what appeared to be working on the surface, while being ignorant of the hidden subculture being fostered below. A brand new demographic with brand-new issues not previously contemplated in the grander plan that skews the positive gains made by the program initially, to the negative reality of a greatly magnified problem (Hobbes, 2019).
A little more than a month ago, we had two attempted suicides within two hours of each other here on the PIER. These people did not know each other, probably had never even met, one was a man, the other a woman, one was black, one was white. They were both what I would consider young – around the ages of 35 to 45 years old. The only thing these two individuals had in common was the decision they had both made that for them, there was nothing left to live for – it was time to die. One succeeded in ending their life – the other did not.
Dealing with these events even on a semi-regular basis takes its toll. For my highly trained team, for the police responders, for the Street Team member, for the paramedics who arrive, for all of us who are either trying to intervene or simply ‘cleaning up’ after the fact, because that’s exactly what it is – cleaning up; it takes its toll.
Yes – let us at least look at what is working in other places, outside the colony characteristic mindset and arrogance of the Board of Supervisors and the impalpable boundaries of the City of San Francisco. It’s a start – a foundation on which to build, to look at what is working without criticizing what is not, what can be generalized and applied to the local population, and what wouldn’t work in its originally conceived-of form.
As for San Francisco – there are thousands of “Jefferies” on the streets of our City. The fact that this Jeffery had been there for 16-years is both startling and miraculous. The fact that my team carries NARCAN and just two nights ago rousted a former company employee out of the bushes on the Powell Street property boundary is just shocking! Why?
On the top edge of our department challenge coin are embossed the words, ‘Dignity, Integrity, Respect.’ Many times, our team members are among the last people the victims of this drug and suicide epidemic will ever come into contact with. It is important to me, to my team, for us to remember that no matter what the circumstance, we will always execute our duty, our interaction many times with the deceased, with dignity, integrity, and respect. Often, there is a realization on our part that in death, we are showing these people a level of dignity, integrity, and respect greater than any they may have received in life – and that includes any shown them by the City of San Francisco.
(Full Links to) References:
Bejekal, N., & Fonseca, G. (2018, August 1). Want to Win the War on Drugs? Portugal Might Have the Answer. TIME Retrieved from http://time.com/longform/portugal-drug-use-decriminalization/.
Hobbes, M. (2019, May 19). Why America Can’t Solve Homelessness. Retrieved 2019, May 24 from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/homeless-utah-end-america-salt-lake-city_n_5cd1cac0e4b04e275d511aba
Knight, H. (2019, May 24). Jeffrey’s journey: An addict’s trail from street to cell. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/heatherknight/article/Hard-journey-happy-kid-to-homeless-SF-drug- 13877402.php?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=briefing&utm_campaign=sfc_baybriefing_am