Tuesday, May 15, 2012

SF shelters gather the old and sick

T.J. Johnston (@TJJohnston415) has this report in the SF Public Press saying San Francisco shelters are helping to wear out high-maintenance people with a high-maintenance system that demands too much of its users.

He says it's a mutual debilitation cycle: an especially ill and aging subset of the general homeless population are cycling through the shelter system. They get even older and sicker standing in line waiting to sign up for beds, sometimes camping overnight outside shelter doors to be at the front of the line when the doors open in the morning, all for a chance at a space indoors the next night. Meanwhile the shelter system keeps busy attending to malfunctions (also, no doubt, everyday rebellions labeled as "behavioral" illness) in the people it has helped to wear down. There being meanwhile almost six times more officially counted homeless people than there are shelter beds.

To her credit, our district's county supervisor, Jane Kim, noticed the high typical age of shelter users when she spent a night in one of the places, a women's shelter known as Next Door. She's trying to do something about the cycle. With cooperation from Bevan Dufty, who doesn't want to be called the city's "homelessness czar" but who does fit the description. Actually, it sounds like this effort could do a lot of good.

Meanwhile, however, let's take a step back to contemplate the absurdity of a city homelessness matrix in which: A) the shelter system has become a boutique discomfortorium for people who have especial difficulties bumping along in the outside world, and B) most people who could use shelter beds don't even bother trying to get them, for reasons of shortage and inconvenience, but C) city officials still act as if no one has a rational reason to sleep outdoors or in a vehicle.

San Francisco housing and homelessness policy suffers too much from this denial-ridden assumption that everyone who hasn't found a place in conventional privately offered housing therefore belongs in some berth provided by institutional charity.

People who live independently in vehicles, especially, are displaying the kind of until-things-improve gumption and "self-sufficiency" that officials of poverty programs officially recommend to their clients. For that, they ought to get some credit and tolerance. Anyhow, for pity's sake, a little slack.

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