The slums of Haiti and In­dia by the Bay

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - OPINION -

SAN Fran­cisco is one of the rich­est cities it the world. It’s given us mu­sic, tech­nol­ogy and el­e­gant ar­chi­tec­ture.

Now it gives us filthy home­less en­camp­ments.

One ur­ban plan­ner told me, “I just re­turned from the Ten­der­loin (a sec­tion of San Fran­cisco). It’s worse than slums of In­dia, Haiti, Africa!”

So I went to San Fran­cisco to make a video about that. I’ve never seen slums in Africa, but I’ve seen them in Haiti and In­dia. What I saw in San Fran­cisco looked sim­i­lar. As one lo­cal res­i­dent put it, “There’s shit ev­ery­where. It’s just a mess out here.”

There’s also lots of men­tal ill­ness. One man told us, “Vam­pires are real. I’m para­noid as hell.” San Fran­cisco au­thor­i­ties mostly leave the men­tally ill to fend for them­selves on the street. Other va­grants com­plain about them. “They make it bad for peo­ple like us that hang out with a sign,” one beg­gar told us.

San Fran­cisco is a pretty good place to “hang out with a sign.” Peo­ple are rarely ar­rested for va­grancy, ag­gres­sive pan­han­dling or go­ing to the bath­room in front of peo­ple’s homes. In 2015, there were 60,491 com­plaints to po­lice, but only 125 peo­ple were ar­rested.

Pub­lic drug use is gen­er­ally ig­nored. One woman told us, “It’s nasty see­ing peo­ple shoot up — right in front of you. Po­lice don’t do any­thing about it! They’ll get some­body for drink­ing a beer but walk right past peo­ple us­ing nee­dles.”

“In­side Edi­tion” ran a test to see how long stereo equip­ment would last in a parked car. Their test car was quickly bro­ken into. Then the cam­era crew dis­cov­ered that their own car had been busted into as well.

Some store own­ers hire pri­vate po­lice to pro­tect their stores. But San Fran­cisco’s po­lice union has com­plained about the com­pe­ti­tion. We fol­lowed one pri­vate cop, who asked street peo­ple, “Do you need any type of home­less out­reach ser­vices?” Most say no. “They love the free­dom of not hav­ing to fol­low the rules,” the cop said.

And San Fran­cisco is gen­er­ous. It of­fers street peo­ple food stamps, free shel­ter, train tick­ets and $70 a month in cash. So ev­ery week, new peo­ple ar­rive.

For decades, San Fran­cisco’s politi­cians promised to fix the home­less prob­lem. When Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein was mayor, she proudly an­nounced that she was putting the home­less in ho­tels: “A thou­sand units, right here in the Ten­der­loin!” When Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som was mayor of San Fran­cisco, he bragged, “We have al­ready moved 6,860 hu­man be­ings.” Last year, for­mer Mayor Mark Far­rell said, “We need to fund pro­grams like Home­ward Bound.”

But the ex­tra fund­ing hasn’t worked. One rea­son is that even if some­one did want to get off the street and rent an apart­ment, there aren’t many avail­able.

San Fran­cisco is filled with two- and three-story build­ings, and in most neigh­bor­hoods any­thing taller is il­le­gal. Even where zon­ing laws al­low it, Cal­i­for­nia reg­u­la­tions make con­struc­tion so dif­fi­cult that many builders won’t even try.

For years, de­vel­oper John Den­nis has been try­ing to con­vert an old meat­pack­ing plant into an apart­ment build­ing — but it has taken him four years just to get per­mis­sion to build.

Peo­ple in San Fran­cisco of­ten claim to be con­cerned about help­ing the poor. But their many laws make life much tougher for the poor.

John Stos­sel is au­thor of “No They Can’t! Why Govern­ment Fails — But In­di­vid­u­als Suc­ceed.”

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