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In search of human rights: Is homelessness a crime punishable by lockouts?

January 29, 2017

by Dr. Betty McGee

How illegal can it be to sleep, eat and live in a non-traditional home? This is the “Notice to Vacate Illegal Campsite” that gave people living under the Cesar Chavez Freeway exit a few days to find a place to move themselves and all their meager belongings, promising to jail them if they can’t. – Photo: Dr. Betty McGee

The Concerned Network of Women partnered with the United Council of Human Services, governed by Gwendolyn Westbrook and Dr. Betty McGee, to issue hand warmers and hot chili to homeless people. On New Year’s Eve, we visited the homeless living under the Cesar Chavez Freeway exit. While under the freeway, we witnessed an eviction notice dated Dec. 29, 2016.

Evicting the homeless serves little purpose, other than further implying that homeless people have no human and/or civil rights. If you walk encampments throughout San Francisco, you will witness how the city is attempting to lock the homeless out. With nowhere to go, many return almost immediately to reclaim the site despite the locks and chains.

The homeless were very grateful for such warm consideration from the collaborative organization. None of the homeless people complained. Perhaps because they knew it would not do any good.

We tend to pretend that our city is the most ideal place to reside, raise our family and build our empire. As a result, we go to the extreme of moving the homeless out of our parks, storefronts, and any and all public arenas that may be in plain view of others.

Evicting the homeless serves little purpose, other than further implying that homeless people have no human and/or civil rights.

Despite all efforts, “what does not come out in the wash, will come out in the rinse.” To acknowledge the level of homelessness in San Francisco would be to admit failure, contends Dr. McGee. We are concerned that resources generally earmarked for homelessness may be being diverted for other projects in San Francisco.

How are the homeless supposed to obtain medical attention when so many do not have adequate clothes and no way to maintain good enough hygiene to feel comfortable visiting a medical facility. Transportation is certainly another big ticket item for the homeless if you consider distance and personal hygiene.

Home is sacred, even when it’s a tiny tent under a freeway. How can a government be so cruel as to take any sense of a safe community away from people who have so little?

So many issues are not being addressed, such as mental health, drug abuse, alcoholism, sex offenders and HIV. Services for the homeless can be independent from the traditional approach.

It occurred to me while in the campsite that local government can easily continue to encourage cleanup, as well as providing some mobile social services onsite to address mental health issues, drug abuse, alcohol and marijuana addiction.

Individuals who seek refuge under freeways are three to five miles away from needed services including shelters, which are limited or nonexistent, and soup kitchens. The San Francisco Department of Public Health must view homelessness as a public health crisis.

Homelessness in San Francisco is near epidemic level with no end in sight. Here is one solution: Bring services to the encampment, not locks and chains.

It is interesting that we live in the richest country in the world and allow our less fortunate to live like animals. Some of them have placed their lives on the line for the very country that is depriving them of many of their God given rights as a human being.

Homelessness in San Francisco is near epidemic level with no end in sight. Here is one solution: Bring services to the encampment, not locks and chains.

We have made it a practice to go home at the end of a long day. We go to our warm homes with running water, hot shower and indoor plumbing.

Gwendolyn Westbrook and Dr. Betty McGee are legendary builders of the beloved community, known for courageously innovative direct services to and empowerment of the neediest people in Bayview Hunters Point and beyond. Ms. Westbrook heads Mother Brown’s Kitchen and Drop-in Resource Center, which would have expanded to provide 100 shelter beds if its funded proposal had not been shot down by gentrifiers, and Dr. McGee is perhaps best known for building mutual support for women struck by breast cancer when Bayview Hunters Point had the highest rate of breast cancer in the world among young Black women.

We have no idea what it is like to have food cooked out of a tin can using the heat from a sterner. We are accustomed to nice meals, eaten off of nice plates and cooked in a sanitized place, and the option of going to the doctor, while our homeless folks are deprived of all of their most basic human rights.

SHAMEFUL! The Trump administration will likely provide additional roadblocks to adequate resources for our homeless population.

I fear things may get worse. If local government continues to place a band-aid on an open wound, you better get ready for more homeless people to make their homes on the steps of City Hall. It does not take a rocket scientist to see the increase in the number of “tent cities” popping up all over San Francisco. It is time to place blame.

Dr. Betty McGee is a decades-long community leader in protecting and defending public health and human rights, especially for the people of Bayview Hunters Point. Contact her at bettymcgee50@gmail.com.

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