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Torture By Standing
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San Francisco Would Torture The Homeless

By James Donahue

The homeless tend to gather in warmer and more comfortable climates, especially during the winter months, for obvious reasons. It is hard enough surviving under a bridge, an abandoned and unheated building or under a blanket on the public sidewalk without fighting the severe elements of nature.

Now the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, is proposing a new ordinance that would prohibit sitting or lying on city sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the law is copied after an ordinance adopted in Seattle that has been upheld by the appellate courts. But that law was aimed at specific commercial neighborhoods where drug addicts and vagrants were shown to be interfering with business.

Newsom’s ordinance would prohibit anyone from sitting or lying on sidewalks anywhere in San Francisco, even in front of one’s own home.

We have made it a point to picture homeless Americans, posting a different image daily on this site because we believe it is a growing dilemma that is almost being ignored by the national media. More and more people are being rousted out of their homes with each passing day, and those without friends or relatives with room to offer them shelter, are finding themselves living in their cars or on the open street.

Some cities are trying to help. Tent cities have been allowed in designated and patrolled areas. Other communities have attempted to provide shelters as the number of homeless people multiply.

We personally know two people who, in an experiment a few years ago, attempted to live like the homeless so they could better understand the hardships endured. They chose to go so far as to live in a van rather than sleep on the sidewalk or a park bench. They said it was an extreme experience.

First of all, the police constantly harassed them for leaving the van parked overnight, or for too long in just about any area they picked. So the vehicle had to constantly be moved to avoid paying heavy parking fines and being awakened by police officers with flashlights.

While they could lock the doors of the van, there still remained a constant threat of being mugged and robbed. Begging on the street for money to buy food was probably the worst of their experience. It took much of the day to acquire enough money to purchase the most meager sandwich from a fast food place. Some days there was little to eat at all.

Sleep deprivation also was experienced to the extreme. The homeless dare not sleep through the night because of the fear of being mugged or even killed by street gangs and thugs at prowl in the cities. This is why we find so many homeless people sleeping in bedrolls or in heavy winter coats in the daylight. They tend to pick relatively safe and well populated areas where there is enough street traffic to provide protection from criminal attacks.

This is why Mayor Newsom’s proposed ordinance, prohibiting people from lying down or even sitting on city streets during daylight hours, is so cruel. It is designed to drive the homeless from San Francisco into more dangerous neighborhoods like Oakland, where the crime rate is high and most people prefer not to walk the streets after dark.

Our acquaintances, who mingled with the homeless in the San Francisco area, did not continue their experiment for very long. They said they discovered to their dismay that most people go insane, sometimes after two weeks of total homelessness. They are simply unable to cope with not having a home and comfortable bed to go to for security each night.

We visited San Francisco last about 15 years ago, back when times were relatively good. Even then there was a noticeable number of the down-and-out walking the streets of the city. We saw beggars on the street, bag ladies with their shopping carts, and people actually sleeping on sidewalks. If I remember right, that was about the time that the San Francisco City fathers attempted to pass a law making it illegal to be homeless in their city. There was a concerted effort to drive these poverty stricken souls off city streets rather than deal with the fact that they existed.

We find it hard to understand the callousness of the elected leadership of not only our cities, but our state and federal governments when it comes to extending a helping hand to the poverty stricken. People tend to elect the more affluent people to office, thinking that they will provide better leadership. But from where we sit, we are watching the rich devote almost all of their energy to becoming even richer and doing it at the expense of everyone else.

For them, there is no feeling whatsoever for the poor.