Starving out needy is no way to deal with homelessness 

There is a constant chorus of complaints about homelessness in San Francisco, but it has reached a fever pitch in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood that ridiculously includes calls to shutter a church meal program for the needy.

Homelessness is a complicated matter that is the manifestation of myriad root issues — the economy, the lack of mental health services, and drug and alcohol addiction, among others. The most visible fragment of the homeless population, though not nearly the entirety of it, is the street homeless — the men, women and children whom ordinary San Franciscans and those visiting The City see spending their days and nights in public spaces.

Merchants and neighbors around Duboce Park have apparently had enough of the homeless people who traverse the area and, seemingly, stay there on occasion. The anecdotal stories from the neighborhood point to an upswing in criminal behavior from transients, though police and officials who deliver city services have not quantified any such trends in the area.

Even if there has been an influx there, one of the ideas that merchants and residents have proposed is mind-boggling.

The St. Francis Lutheran Church serves meals to needy people every Sunday morning. One key word there is “needy,” not homeless. The church does not differentiate between those who have residences and need meal assistance and those who are homeless. Dr. Raj Parekh of the Department of Public Health’s Homeless Outreach Team told The San Francisco Examiner that many people who visit the church for assistance are not homeless; they simply need help with food for reasons that include poverty.

The neighbors and merchants have unfairly targeted the church’s meal program, saying it should be shut down to see if that drives homeless people out of the neighborhood. While the effects of such a callous proposal would be debatable at best, since many other factors likely play into where people sleep outdoors, the impact on the economically struggling patrons of the church is undeniable. People who, as Parekh pointed out, may have to make choices between such critical items as medicine and food could be forced to pay for food above other urgent needs.

If the neighbors and merchants are truly interested in helping the homeless, and not just pushing them out of the neighborhood into other parts of The City, there are better, more constructive solutions.

For instance, there could be a pooling of resources to fund a dedicated social worker for the area, who could work with the transient population to connect people with housing or mental health services. The groups also could work with The City to bring the successful Project Homeless Connect to Duboce Park to reach the same goal of connecting people with services.

In short, the neighbors and merchants who are vocal about this issue should stop demonizing the transients and a church that is providing a social service to the community. Instead, they can start working toward projects through which the neighborhood can assist The City in tackling the larger issues around homelessness.

Shuttering a meal service program and pushing transients out of one neighborhood might improve the situation for the immediate residents and merchants, but it does nothing to get at the root issues that lead to homelessness.

There is no simple solution to homelessness, but the idea of booting the church’s meal service is a nonstarter that will only do harm.

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