Two measures on the November ballot that concern homelessness are just political posturing and offer no solutions, according to a group of LGBT activists who slammed the measures at a Monday morning press conference at City Hall.
Primarily at issue was Supervisor Mark Farrell’s ballot measure that amends the police code to allow for the removal of homeless encampments if individuals at the camp had been offered an alternative such as housing, a shelter bed, or a bus ticket to shelter. Activists also opposed District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener’s measure requiring the police department to maintain a 60-person neighborhood crime unit.
The activists said the proposals disproportionately impact the estimated 30 percent of adult homeless individuals who identify as LGBT because they are more likely to experience violence on the streets or in shelters. Moreover, they are more likely to be without a family support system.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a housing rights counselor and tenant advocate, accused the supervisors of using homelessness as a wedge issue to advance themselves politically, while downplaying or ignoring the negative effects on LGBT homeless people.
“In 2016 here in the most liberal city in the country it is fair game to attack the homeless during elections,” he said. “We are sick and tired of politicians using life and death issues in our LGBT community for their political advantage.”
Peter Gallotta, the president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, also dismissed the measures as political rather than practical.
“These measures seek to divide San Francisco voters and create a platform for some of our politicians to run on in November,” said Gallotta. “We should not be playing politics with people’s lives.”
“When we further criminalize homeless people, we further traumatize them and entrench them in debt, making it impossible for them to exit homelessness,” said Lisa Marie Alatorre, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness.
Several activists made references to Wiener, Mayor Ed Lee, and State Senator Mark Leno being booed offstage at this year’s Trans March. Among them was trans activist Ashley Love, who said she was disowned by her family as a teen and became homeless.
“Our community is not a prop for politicians to take pictures with and to look progressive,” she said.
Farrell, for his part, used the same rhetoric, but with regard to another proposal currently working its way through the legislative process – a proposal to raise San Francisco’s sales tax by .75 percent.
The Chronicle reports progressive supervisors may try to block the more popular tax measure to force the retraction of Farrell’s tent measure.
“If they want their legacy on the Board of Supervisors and for the rest of residents to be voting against over $1 billion in the next 25 years to get people off the streets, that’s their decision,” Farrell told the Chronicle. “But I find it despicable to be playing politics with the most vulnerable residents in our city.”
Activists on Monday said Supervisors Farrell and Wiener had been absent from initiatives to assist homeless LGBT individuals.
“Where were they when we were setting up Jazzie’s Place?” Avicolli Mecca asked. “Where were they when the Coalition on Homelessness released a report saying 70 percent of trans people who stay in shelters experience violence?”
“He has access to power and privilege…and they’re forgetting about no-income, low-income mental health and all these various groups that need housing,” said Janetta Johnson, who works with the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project.
Some 50 activists then entered city hall to deliver a petition, for which they said had gathered hundreds of signatures, urging the four supervisors who are backing the measure to repeal their support. For the most part, the group was met with politely reticent legislative aides who promised to take the petition and the group’s sentiments to their superiors, but declined to share their own feelings.
At Farrell’s office, however, the group argued for nearly half an hour with legislative aide Jess Montejano, who defended the legislation and said activists had misunderstood its intent.
“I feel like there’s been a lot of misinformation and things that have been spread around the ordinance itself,” he said. “We don’t have any criminalization element whatsoever in our ordinance…There’s no misdemeanor, there’s no infraction.”
“It’s police code!” activists responded.
Regardless of intent, they said, the impact would be negative.
“Tent encampments are already illegal..Why these redundant ballot measures?” asked Jordan Gwendolyn Davis, a transgender and formerly homeless activist. “It’s trying to bring certain voters to the polls, homeowners and wealthy people.”