Quality Of Life? or Quantity Of Strife?

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

If you are, like me, one of the 12,000 homeless people in San Francisco you may not want to read this article. It will make you angry, at best.

by Anna Morrow

If you are, like me, one of the 12,000 homeless people in San Francisco you may not want to read this article. It will make you angry, at best. The Mayor is ready to re-fund a blatantly unsuccessful program that can only be seen as working well if his intention is to criminalize homelessness. Welcome to Quality of Life in San Francisco.

I would like to explain the City Attorney’s "quality of life" infraction program to you, but I can’t. How can I explain the inexplicable waste of money for this utterly ineffective, non-solution? Clearly, I am biased. I cringe at the very sound of those 3 little words: Quality of Life. I prefer to call this program "Quantity of Strife".

The name itself indicates whom this program is intending to help: the neighborhoods and businesses of people who have jobs and homes. It is their quality of life that is being infringed upon by those of us without homes. Apparently, homelessness is now a crime for which we homeless must be punished. The alleged purpose of this program is to direct (corral) homeless people into the Social Service system. Wrong, wrong! Don’t they mean Criminal Justice system? Even if this were the case, this program would be a failure. It was touted as a mechanism through which people could access treatment or housing. Now I’m really mad! Let me step back for a moment and outline the statistics of this program.

From 1993-95 over 7 million dollars was spent on police compensation and incarceration for Quality of Life citations. There have been approximately 100,000 citations issued since 1993. In the first 3 months of this year alone over 6500 citations have been issued (approximately 10,000 as of May 31,2000) for which a measly 46 people have been referred by the DA for ‘fine alternatives’ meaning treatment or services. But wait, as if that number were not proof enough that this program is a dismal failure, it gets worse: of the 46 (out of 6500) people who were referred; 0, that’s right ZERO- none, NO PEOPLE received housing placement or medical treatment. Now I’m not great at math but even I can tell these numbers don’t add up! (HALF DAY BOB?)

So let’s look at the dollar figures. The well-publicized $250,000 price tag, in keeping with the overall theme of this program, is completely misleading. That figure is just the tip of the financial iceberg. It does not include the administrative, incarceration and police compensation fees, which are a direct result of each and every Q-o-L citation. The actual cost of this program is probably closer to 4 million dollars annually. I base this on the 7 million dollar price tag of the Matrix program from 1993 — 95, taking into consideration the 128 percent increase of citations from 1998 - 99. Relatively speaking, 250,000 dollars seems like pocket change. This "pocket change" should be re-appropriated to fund programs that actually succeed in reducing homelessness and poverty. That would be the sensible and humane decision. But the Mayor has chosen to re-fund his program. So let’s take a look at the process and inevitable outcome of those forced to walk the path of Quality of Life.

If Quality of Life was a board game and you were a homeless person trying to get a home there would be no way to win. The only option you would have would be to go back to the start (as a homeless person) and try again. The game would look something like this

Scenario 1

You are homeless, and the police arrest you for sleeping outside (or drinking, littering, urinating in public, or taking up space on someone else’s private property). You have no ID so you go to jail where you are booked and cited and then the DA dismisses your case. Now you go back to where you started.

Scenario 2

You are a homeless person and the police arrest you and write a citation. You pay a fine or appear in court and then go back to being homeless. Or, you can not pay the fine or you miss your court date, and a warrant is automatically issued for your arrest. So now you become a homeless person with a warrant. (Sorry, those are just the rules of the game.) And now, just like that other board game, you must go directly to jail. (Do not stop at go, do not collect 200 dollars.)

Scenario 3

If the total amount for your warrant is less than $1,000 you will receive your day in court (oh boy) where your case will probable be dismissed and you will go back to being a homeless person. If you fail to appear in court then you go back to being a homeless person with a warrant. If you do appear in court and agree to community service, you may not be able to complete your service because you have no home, no alarm clock, no shower, and no clean socks; no fast pass, and no one to watch your stuff while you’re gone. And so you become a homeless person with a warrant. Or maybe you are able to complete your service commitment in which case you will be rewarded by being allowed to go back to just being a homeless person; a dubious honor at best. (Thanks for wasting my time!)

Please note: If you have managed to complete your community service you will have provided services to the City at no cost, by way of participating in a program that was suppose to be providing you with services. Interesting how that works out.

Scenario 4

You are a homeless person with a warrant totaling more than $1,000: you must remain in custody. When you go to court your case is dismissed. You receive credit for time served and you go back to the start of being a homeless person.

As you may have noticed the majority of cases are dismissed in court. The best scenario in this game is that as a homeless person you somehow go undetected and unharrassed; i.e. you do not become part of the Quality of Life program. If you are spotted and cited for being homeless, you are forced through the judicial and perhaps criminal "justice" system, and will either pay the city in labor or dollars, but will ultimately go back out onto the street. The most you can hope to get out of this program is a detour through a legal labyrinth; on your way back to your ‘still homeless’ life.

Quality of Life is a waste of time and money; a completely inhumane political roundup designed to criminalize poor folks. Change your thinking, Mr. Mayor. This is the wrong answer because it is the wrong question. If you need help getting the right question, ask someone who is homeless. No one I know would ask: "How can I get in that Quality of Life program?"


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