Mayor London Breed appears to think she is heading up a military campaign, to “take back the Tenderloin”. In one of the most horrifying examples of Grinchdom that ever disgraced the festive season, Breed announced and pushed through her agenda to flood the Tenderloin with police, and therefore put in motion an action which will surely throw a bunch of homeless people and those suffering addiction in jail for the holidays. Long term the consequences of this action of punishment not real solutions based on compassion and the reality of how to improve the situation, are surely going to be devastating.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Thursday night to approve Mayor London Breed’s order to declare a state of emergency in the Tenderloin. Seeing those people who should be custodians of the safety of actual people who live, die and suffer in this city, turn around and make it clear that they not only don’t care about the safety and health of the unhoused residents of San Francisco, and those who live with an addiction, but also that they are actually hostile to those who are struggling to survive, and want to criminalize them, take away their autonomy on pain of imprisonment, retraumatized me in a way that I was not prepared for. Mayor Breed, in comments made earlier this week declared she was going to be “less tolerant of all the bull— that has destroyed our city,” and made it clear she supported jail for those citizens of San Francisco that refused ‘treatment’.
Since when has removing people’s autonomy been something tolerated in San Francisco? Since when did this city become a haven for those who judge, criminalize and condemn? This city is built on LSD, beat writer’s alcohol addictions, hippy peace, love and understanding and a large dose of rebellion. This is not who we are.
Instead of pouring more money into policing and criminalization – Chesa Boudin where are you?! – efforts should be made to actually fix the problems facing the addicted. We need safe supply, not jail. Canada has a magnificent, non censuring, compassionate system whereby addicts are given a safe and free supply of their drug of choice. They provide hydromorphone, or diecetylmorphine, stimulants to stim users, and benzos (valium, xanax etc). It is a beautiful system. It is saving lives. It is saving money. It is saving people, and alleviating suffering. I destroyed my health kicking opiates and benzos cold turkey. I wanted to do it, I was ready, but if I was not and someone told me it was accept treatment or go to jail, it would have pushed me into the mother of all runs, a binge to end all binges. It would have probably killed me.
Who hasn’t, when faced with rehab, decided to go for one last shot, one last line, one last pill? Heck, if I was forced into cleaning up against my will I would go into that kicking and screaming and making Belushi look like the epitome of restraint. Bodily autonomy is a concept that this brave new world seems to have forgotten. No forcing people into doing things to their bodies that they are not up for. It is doomed to failure. You can’t force people into something they don’t want to do. A more pragmatic approach is the only answer. Give people a safe supply that they don’t have to commit crime to secure, and watch them thrive, and eventually some will give up. Some will not, but a functional habit is not the end of the world. What causes the suffering and the issues is the lack of safe supply and things people are pushed into in order to fund their habits.
Stability that could be provided by offering voluntary services, safe supply that doesn’t have to be administered in an official site (who wants to get high in a clinic?), SIP hotel places for every single homeless person on the street, and medical care for everyone who requires it cannot be underestimated. Clean clothes, showers, feeling human again, feeling cared for, feeling part of society and the neighborhood instead of pushed so far outside of society the only logical reaction is to kick back hard would make the Tenderloin nicer to live in for everybody, included our unhoused neighbors. This is my neighborhood. I care about the people who live here. This is not good for any of us.
The retraumatization is real. I know I am not secure in my housing. When my subsidy is over next summer, I do not see how I will be able to pay for the apartment, and if I cannot come up with a solid plan, then me and my son will be back outside. Forget his High School Diploma. Forget my budding writing career. Forget sleeping in a bed, and cooking food and eating every day. Forget being safe. Forget, to be frank, being clean and sober. If I end up back out there there is no way on earth that I am going to be able to cope with life without something to deaden the pain.
I spent my time living outside in mostly rural areas, and when I had to be in cities I generally had a vehicle and could park up in a Walmart or a Staples parking lot until some little Hitler with a hard on for torturing people smashed on my window and made us move on, threatening us with cops, violence and not listening to any small request to sleep just another hour. When I came down to San Francisco it was a hail mary pass. A move of desperation. I came here because it is a sanctuary city, and I thought I could get us into a shelter before my time in an airbnb ran out. I thankfully was right. If I had tried it this year I would have been out of luck, the SIP hotels that sheltered us, have been shut down, despite funding being in place into the new year.
I am very nervous about saying anything about this. I am nervous because I do not know where Mayor Breed is going with this next. Is she going to invite ICE into the city? Is she going to make it a war between the rich and the poor? Are the cops going to start hurting my neighbors. Are they going to hurt me and my son? It is not like the police have a sparkling track record of decent behavior. I am more scared of the cops than any of my unhoused neighbors. I don’t have a voice where I can speak my mind freely, as I am totally aware of my precarious position.
Nowadays being undocumented, or on the outskirts of society is becoming dangerous. I never thought it would be dangerous in my beloved San Francisco, which only a year or so ago gave my son and I the first beds, showers, and compassionate treatment we had received in years.
If Breed wants to make the city safer for everybody, including those that use drugs, she needed to look into emergency options that would mean actual real positive change. If she wanted to make a positive change when the weather is horrendous and cold, she could have reopened all those SIP hotels, and got people inside. No one can clean up while they are living outside and the sweeps are taking away their survival gear. I am reasonably secure in my sobriety, but I guarantee, one night outside, and fuck the fact I jones for old school tar not fent, I would be wondering if shooting it was a bad idea and trying to find some strong aluminum foil to smoke it off. How can anyone be expected to stay sober when they are unhoused? How can anyone be expected to get sober when it is decreed on pain of losing freedom? I do not know a single one of my old junkie friends who would not have welcomed safe supply and been overjoyed at the prospect of free dilaudid. Taking the pressure off people, making them feel cared about, elicits more gentle behavior. Right now all Breed is ensuring is confrontation and push back, not to mention even more overdoses as basic psychology dictates people will binge because they think the drug desert is on the horizon.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a pussy cat. I am not a violent mean person, but threaten my freedom, threaten me with clean up or jail, take away my autonomy, and I promise I would be pissing over the stairs of city hall and breaking windows. Crime, big crime is not committed by the unhoused people of the city, yet it is the unhoused who are being scapegoated time and time again.
It is too easy to play to the peanut throwing cheapseats who want to gentrify the Tenderloin and raise rent prices so no one can afford to live here either, and want to wipe the streets clean, as they see it. I will ask you now, ask yourself where do they want people to go? I’ve asked myself this very same question time and time again. Just where do they want me to go? The answer is always the same, ‘anywhere but here’. People have to put their feet somewhere on this earth. They have to ‘be’ somewhere, and San Francisco is as much the city of the poor – like me – , as it is the rich. I am lucky. My son and I have a temporary respite from being outside. I will do everything I can to make sure it is more permanent. For those who are outside tonight, knowing that the Mayor is ‘at war’ with them, and instead of wanting to help, to bring people up, instead wants to smash down on them, must feel like the ultimate kick in the teeth. Happy fucking holidays, everyone.
We need to do better. I do not give a flying fuck about those who have managed to live a life without addiction, who have never been forced to live outside for extended periods of time, whose children never knew what it was like to be unhoused. I do care for the sneering looking down upon people who have addictions and who have tasted what it is like to be in the gutter. My son has never had a baseball game. He goes to practices but due to lack of documentation, despite being a good pitcher, has never been invited to a throw game. This is because he was unhoused, and couldn’t give birth certificates to the leagues. He knows what it is like to wake up soaked through, cold and wet and scared, with someone screaming to get out of the campground, despite having paid, or out of the parking lot. He is not alone. There are other children out there who have suffered in the same way – not getting the chances to just be kids. Breed is ‘taking the Tenderloin’ back from these children too – the last bit of ‘home’ and continuity they have, she is taking away their home, their community, their safety, their family’s chances of being ok.
The total lack of pragmatism and compassion is astounding. It shocks me that people, just because they do not want to, do not feel the need to have a drug habit of any kind, feel they can push their judgements and lifestyle onto other people. My habit arose out of being an abused child. It was the only thing that made me able to live and breathe and exist. I struggle with it every day, counting the days, months, and years since I cleaned up. I know if I was to fall tomorrow, there would be no compassion, or help, or safe supply, just censure and jail. Anyone who reads my blog knows me. I don’t deserve that, and neither do any of my compadres out there who are still in the middle of an addiction. No one deserves to be forced into a way of life they do not want to live, nor treatment that they do not find helpful. No one deserves to be scapegoated and vilified. Society needs to learn to live and let live, to have a lot more peace love and understanding, and accept that people do not want to all live their lives in the same way. Compassion, kindness, care and pragmatism are all I want for Christmas. Instead I am staring out the window wondering what this crackdown is going to look like.
For the first time in a while I feel actively unsafe. It is unimaginable how it must feel to be unhoused and outside today. Breed has no heart, but San Francisco does. I still believe in this city which allowed me and my child to stay here safely. I just hope it still believes in me and others like me.
As Costello once sang, ‘what’s so funny bout peace, love and understanding?’ These are indeed troubled times.