Where’s The (French) Revolution When You Need It?

Last Monday afternoon I was more than a little appalled, as I walked into my neighborhood post office, to be approached by a volunteer for Supervisor Gavin Newsom. Armed with a clipboard, a smirk, and a quiver of pens held together with a rubber band, Newsom’s shill actually had the nerve to be gathering signatures to put the man’s name on the November ballot.


As a candidate for mayor.

Given the immense support Newsom received after his botched and unenforceable “Care Not Cash” initiative was approved by 60% of San Francisco voters in 2002, it might have been a touch more seemly if Newsom had chosen to pay his own filing fee out of the money he’s collected in campaign contributions from restaurant owners and rich landlords who couldn’t be more delighted with his plan to fuck over the homeless and the drug-addicted without anyone’s noticing. [1]

Or maybe he just didn’t feel like spending the money. The filing fee is, after all, a chunk of change—even more than Newsom’s landlord friends used to be able to get each month for a studio apartment in the Pacific Heights/Marina district that Newsom represents. Besides, it’s more-or-less free polling, and poll results are mother’s milk to the politically ambitious.

But panhandling is panhandling—whether you’re asking for cash or a signature instead of cash, it amounts to the same thing. And I thought Gavin Newsom stood for putting a stop to just that sort of thing. He could ask his friends, the Gettys, to feel around in their pockets for loose change and come up with the filing fee, but why pay for something you can get poor people to buy for you?

Still, all you can do is hand it to him: He’s got more chutzpah than Monica Lewinsky eating cheap cheese at a Hillary Clinton book signing.

Newsom’s volunteer at the post office turns out to be a hip-hop-garbed black woman—I’ll have to be forgiven for thinking that choosing her to come to my particular neighborhood was as carefully orchestrated as is the rest of Newsom’s attempt to appear to be something other than the Let-Them-Eat-Cake yuppie scum that he is. She earnestly explained to passersby that she supported Newsom because she’d rather people “were getting treatment than shooting up on the street.”

Well, who wouldn’t? Is anyone in favor of drug abuse? Does anyone think that tying off in doorways is a viable life choice?

The problem is: There is no treatment, there hasn’t been treatment, and there isn’t going to be any treatment. Newsom lied to the voters, and the people who are the victims of the lie aren’t in a position to do a thing about it.

In 1997, in part because of pressure by community leaders, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a “Treatment on Demand” strategic plan for the city. According to that plan, anyone who wanted to receive drug treatment in San Francisco had only to ask for it.

After the new system was adopted, the San Francisco Department of Health established a “Treatment on Demand” council, and the city’s entire substance-abuse-treatment community went into high gear to meet the new requirements. Lots of people got jobs. Conferences were held at expensive hotels. The term “treatment on demand” passed into the social-service vocabulary and rolls trippingly off the tongues of those who enjoy buzz words—which is most of the people in the administration of public health in San Francisco.

But here’s the one thing that never happened: Treatment on Demand. It doesn’t exist. It never has. It was never funded. It isn’t going to be.

In 2001 and 2002, I worked in the San Francisco jails with pre- and post-release inmates. The vast majority of our clients were substance abusers. Once they got out of jail, there were virtually no treatment programs for them, and the waiting lists for existing programs were huge. God help you if you were “dual diagnosed”—meaning you had mental health problems in addition to an addiction. Substance abuse programs don’t like working with people who take psychotropic drugs, and mental health programs find it too complicated to treat people who are addicts. There are no specific housing or supportive services available for those waiting for a treatment bed to come open. The wait can last for months. [2]

In June 2002, when the state and city’s budget crises came to a head, one of the first proposals out of Mayor Willie Brown’s budget office was to cut substance-abuse treatment beds across the city. As the financial crisis deepened this fiscal year, the city continued to cut safety-net programs with a hacksaw.

That’s the situation into which “Care Not Cash” comes—assuming a judge can ever make sense of the legally incomprehensible fourteen-page document that voters in San Francisco enacted, most of them having not the slightest idea what it actually said, what it meant, or how the city would pay for it. (Let’s do simple math—If each homeless person’s General Assistance (welfare) grant is cut approximately $350 per month, then the City can only spend $350 a month on housing or treatment—or, perish the thought, on both. SROs—which are at the heart of the Newsom “plan”—cost in the vicinity of $600 a month. As for treatment, even Newsom’s most addled groupies wouldn’t try to argue that you can treat, feed, and house an addict for $12 a day. In other words, you don’t have to be a CFO to realize that we’re going to run a little short…. And where is the extra money supposed to come from, Gavin? The City is broke, or didn’t they mention that at your last Board of Supervisors’ meeting?)

As far as I’m concerned, Gavin Newsom is lucky to be allowed to live in this city, never mind be mayor of it. And talking of lucky, I suppose it’s a good thing that even angry queers who rush your limo in the “Pride” parade don’t carry machetes or high explosives. I guess we haven’t gotten desperate enough yet for suicide bombings, but then we haven’t had Newsom for mayor yet, either.

Of course, the reality is that Newsom will almost certainly get the signatures he needs to get his name on the ballot for free. It’s an easy town for that sort of thing; we’ve got more petitions circulating here on any given day than McDonald’s has freedom fries.

But no one ever comes around with the kind of petition I’d really like to sign: the one where they ask what street corner I think would be best for displaying Gavin Newsom’s head on a stick.

[1] At the corner of 18th and Castro, a sign promoting Newsom’s candidacy takes up the entire outside wall of Harvey’s Bar – the former site of the venerable Elephant Walk. Castro business people were among the strongest supporters of “Care Not Cash,” which only goes to prove that, when it comes to the “Rainbow Community,” the only color a lot of queens care about is green.

[2] There is, of course, the “shelter system,” which means that you play the lottery every single day. You show up or call in at a specific time of the morning—at 10:00 or before noon or between 8:11 and 9:17. Each shelter has different, picky rules and they really don’t give a crap if you don’t remember what they are: Eighteen other people are vying for your bed. If you manage to do it right, you get a lottery number. Later that day, usually at some point in the early afternoon, you come back or call in again and find out whether you’ve “won.” If you have, you are allowed to show up at the shelter at 8pm or 10pm or at whatever time they’ve established and claim your bed. If you don’t “win,” you can show up at one designated shelter and they’ll bus you around to any other shelter in town that has open beds. You might get to sleep by midnight. If there are no beds elsewhere—say, if it’s raining or especially cold out or if it’s getting toward the end of the month before welfare checks come—they close the door in your face and tell you to come back tomorrow. You get to do this every day. Try going to school or holding down a job while you’re maintaining that schedule.


Posted on 5 November 2003, in A San Francisco of the Mind, We've Gone Mad! Mad I Tell You! and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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