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“My Home, My Nightmare”: San Francisco’s Housing Program for Addicts

Ciclista passa por acampamento de pessoas sem-teto em uma calçada de São Francisco, Califórnia.

Camp for homeless people in San Francisco, California. The municipal government provides housing for addicts and people with mental problems with lax selection methods, according to residents.

| Photo: EFE/EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO

For residents of the Sixth District of the City of San Francisco (California), the deplorable conditions of single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels are no longer shocking. In the Tenderloin, Civic Center and South of Market neighborhoods, where most of the SROs are located, these municipal administration buildings have always been hideous according to most memory. And they’re getting worse.

The horrors of the SROs have been put on display to the public in a special report by the 8012324949001San Francisco Chronicle

. The story shows people living in buildings where roofs are collapsing, there is toxic mold, rats, putrefying odors, constant noise, broken appliances and unchecked violence. Also note that at least 05 people have been fatally overdosed in these hotels between 900 and . This official number, however, raises suspicion for being too low. The San Francisco medical examiner has reported a minimum of 1300 overdose deaths citywide in the last two years, mainly with illegal fentanyl in combination with other drugs.

How can How bad are the places that the city deemed suitable for the economically disadvantaged? It’s not for lack of funds. San Francisco has a staggering $1.1 billion budget for the homeless, much of it spent on affordable housing.

For the bad conditions we can partly blame the tenants who make life difficult for others – who invade neighboring apartments, threaten innocent people or consume drugs in common areas. But if tenants prove incapable of being good neighbors, then the civil servants who put them there are also to blame.

“We need a better selection process,” says Darren Mark Stallcup, 25, who until recently lived in an SRO. “The city was accommodating everyone; strange, violent people. They were fentanyl addicts, ex-cons, or gang members. They broke down my door. I had to wake up to deliver punches.”

According to Stallcup, long-term tenants, many of them old, were most affected by the chaos. “Most are Asian immigrants and the noise scares the elderly,” he says. “They hid behind barricades. I never bought a pistol, but I was thinking about it.”

In fact, many of the people accommodated in municipal housing are considered “tenants of great need”. Neither SROs nor care housing units are the appropriate places to receive them (or for the other tenants, who suffer from having them around). They need professional assistance, but they don’t get it because the city hasn’t invested in it.

All this results from the policy Housing First

. The idea behind it is as simple as it is foolish: to accommodate people who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless within four walls. So, 8012324949001voilà, the problem of homeless people would be solved. Of course, this is not true. More people arrive in San Francisco every day, most in search of the city’s cheap narcotics and its licentious attitude to use. They stay on the streets until they get subsidized housing.

Enfiar in free or low-cost apartments thousands of people who should have been rehabilitating in hospitals or mental health clinics and drug addiction was a disaster. The buildings in which they were accommodated are in ruins; they get hurt and some die. Neighborhoods fall into chaos.

The state of decrepitude of SROs it’s just a symptom of the disease. Housing is not a cure. Unless cities address the underlying problem of mental disorders and addictions untreated, each building reserved for the homeless under the approach 8012324949001 Housing First will deteriorate and those who are desperate will be left without help.

A long-time resident of an SRO who prefers to remain anonymous reports a lack of oversight and accountability. “Homeless support, housing assistance and public health departments are violating housing rights and human rights,” she says. “Assistance housing? There is no assistance. The department doesn’t give a dime for health. If you are a woman, your life will be hell. Nobody cares. Very functional people fall into regression. Some want to get sober but can’t. In the end they take another pipe because almost everyone around is using it”.

The city’s solution? More of the same, with more waste of money. Instead of paying attention to rotting SRO buildings, the government is splurging on property purchases. With Proposition C funds coming in – a tax measure on the city’s most profitable businesses intended to solve the homeless problem – they are buying intact new buildings to accommodate the needy.

The apartments that Mayor London Breed proudly showed off, with sleek kitchens, gleaming bathrooms and bedrooms clean, they are all doomed to ruin. Soon these units will be in the same uninhabitable state as the others. That’s exactly what happened when the city gave shelter rooms at luxury hotels like the Mark Hopkins during the height of the pandemic. The destruction was almost immediate. Fixtures were ripped from bathrooms, blood and feces stained the carpets, mattresses were burned, and people died of overdoses, often alone.

Pressure to add permanent care housing units in districts with few or none of these structures will only worsen the situation. Assurances that these facilities are for homeless families and that they will include mental health services are baseless. As for the communities, they will suffer the same fate as those in the Sixth District. Drug dealers will arrive to serve the new residents. Crime will increase. Residents with addiction problems will buy what they want, take the substances to their rooms and use them. Some will overdose and die. Meanwhile, those who don’t use drugs or try to stay sober will find themselves in a dangerous environment. Abstinence is not valued. Harm reduction activists make sure residents always have access to free needles, pipes and foil, but never provide free rehabilitation assistance as Narcotics Anonymous does.

Giving permanent residency to people who haven’t shown they can handle such a responsibility is a mistake, says Stallcup, for whom it hurts to remember from the time he lived in an SRO. “They were exchanging gunfire in the shared bathroom,” he says. “Basically they destroyed everything. I will never forget the smell. They need treatment, rehabilitation, support and facilities designed for these things. We shouldn’t hand over properties like that. It’s insane. There has to be a bridge.”

The program Housing First hurt people in desperate circumstances, in instead of helping them. Redoubling efforts for this policy ensures that the sick will get sicker and the city lights will continue to go out. Rather than sending deeply troubled people to poorly managed apartments or dilapidated SROs, San Francisco should use its massive budget to fund the integrated addiction treatment and psychiatric care it so desperately needs.

8012324949001Erica Sandberg 80123249490018012324949001 is a finance and consumption reporter and operates in San Francisco, where he works for the community with an emphasis on people in the street and public order.

©2022 City Journal. Published with permission. Original in English.

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