Kamala Harris Needs to Answer for “Quality of Life”

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on October 30, 2007

Only weeks after Religious Witness with Homeless People denounced the wastefulness and cruelty of the City’s policy of issuing “quality of life” citations to homeless and poor folks, the District Attorney’s Office is being more aggressive than ever in prosecuting those cases.

According to the SF Chronicle, the DA’s office is now assigning prosecutors to go into court to defend any challenge to the issuance of those citations by volunteer lawyers representing homeless individuals.

Since Mayor Gavin Newsom came into office almost four years ago, the City has spent nearly $8 million in enforcing an array of “crimes” that include sleeping on the sidewalk and urinating in public. Over 56,000 citations have been issued, most of them to people who cannot pay and thus end up with warrants that can result in the denial of Social Security benefits and federally subsidized housing.

How does a City that rightly breaks the law by issuing marriage licenses to queer couples or declaring itself a city of amnesty for undocumented immigrants suddenly become law and order central when it comes to the homeless?

It’s a no-brainer: Middle-class neighbors are complaining. Newsom’s efforts to end homelessness have failed and rather than hold him accountable, the voters and the media choose to demonize the homeless. Four years ago, tremendous public outrage was directed at progressive politicians who were accused of being too soft on the homeless. The more conservative Newsom promised results and despite his much-touted efforts, the number of the homeless on the streets has not substantially decreased.

Homelessness is not a crime. It cannot be addressed through the criminal “justice” system. It can only be dealt with by an efficient social services system and a comprehensive plan to end poverty. San Francisco doesn’t seem to have either. Where are the street outreach workers Newsom promised us? Where is the adequate amount of affordable housing? Where is the sufficient number of treatment programs?

Where is the public health and human services infrastructure to tackle the vast numbers of people who are without a roof over their heads? Where is the aggressive plan to tackle the root causes of homelessness, including the high cost of rents? Whatever happened to the “Continuum of Care” proposal to end homelessness or former Supervisor Angela Alioto’s 10-year-plan?

Why is District Attorney Kamala Harris backing the criminalization of poverty and homelessness through these “quality of life” citations? Why are progressives not holding Harris accountable for her
actions in this regard?

In Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Misérables, Jean Valjean is thrown into jail for stealing bread to feed himself and his family. In San Francisco, he would meet the same fate, and the District Attorney would justify it by saying that he broke the law.

When it comes to attitudes about the poor and homeless, San Francisco has a lot in common with 19th Century France.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical Italian queer performer and writer whose work can be seen at www.avicollimecca.com

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