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Homeless Balance


San Francisco’s homeless issue isn’t going away. Not if The Chron has its (belated) way. In stories that should have been done a year ago, the paper takes a look at what’s going on in Philadephia and New York.

The stories are interesting – and were probably done – because they support San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plans to help homeless city residents by getting them into shelters, off the street and in supervised care facilities quickly. And they make a nice companion to the SFWeekly’s fairly solid piece about the costs of those programs, the city and federal government shortfalls.
Still, this is, to some extent, hindsight. The city’s attitude about caring for its homeless citizens has changed. The real question facing San Francisco, one that no one’s managed to write, is how the city will carry on what has been a long-standing policy of tolerance. If the money’s not there – as The Chron and the Weekly point out with rare unanimity – will the city still be able to foot the bill?
It’s tolerance – a welcome San Francisco characteristic – that makes this the city what it is and has been; it’s liberal tolerance that’s made residents, at the least, pay lip service to the idea that civic obligations include helping the less fortunate. Tolerance has been under some stress lately and it’s going to get another work-out as Silicon Valley’s mini-bubble (life expectancy: late 2004 to early 2006) expands, rents go up and the city’s Progressive Nostalgia-mongers try to take back their turf.
To see the city’s tolerance abandon – its willingness to help — would be more than a shame. It would be repudiation. That’s what Angela Alioto, head of Newsom’s homeless program has tried to get at. It’s what Sen. John Burton was saying with his “St. Francis was a beggar” placards. It’s what being a city of Liberals is all about – really.
This is a fine balance and it’s may well mean, at some point, tax increases. So Newsom now has a neat trick to pull off as he balances on the tight wire of national political recognition. The city’s newer residents, many of them not life-long urban dwellers, aren’t going to see the logic here; they want the city they see in the movies and they want low taxes. Most of them are, at their core, business people. But others see the connections. Explaining them – unlike the last time around when it was just screaming and carelessness and inconsideration on both sides because the mayor either didn’t care, didn’t understand or didn’t want to get involved – should be figuring into everyone’s plans. And, for the record, Supervisor Chris Daly – I’m talking to you, too.

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