San Francisco’s failure to police the takeover of public spaces by homeless people is appalling, making it the West Coast capitol of violent panhandlers and surly runaways. Heather MacDonald wrote a particularly eye-popping essay describing the depths of the city’s dereliction of duty for City Journal two years ago that is well worth reading.
But rather than get its burgeoning homeless population into treatment or at least off the street, San Francisco came up with another solution that hasn’t stopped the inflow, but has made life less livable for taxpaying citizens: removing public seating.
From the New York Times:
All around the city, San Franciscans can be found seated on steps, curbs, retaining walls and on the grass — but not on benches. In a tacit surrender to the overwhelming problem of homelessness, the city has simply removed public seating over the last two decades. Benches in Civic Center Plaza were removed in the 1990s. Those in nearby United Nations Plaza were ripped out in the middle of the night in 2001, to discourage the homeless from congregating and camping there.
“Because San Francisco has been unwilling to deal with homelessness in a serious way, we have instead removed public seating from virtually the entire city,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, an urban policy research group. “It’s such a sad statement and it makes the city that much less livable for everyone.”
Many in the permanent homeless community suffer from addictions and mental problems that make it difficult if not impossible for them to meaningfully contribute to society. But a reasonable response to that reality isn’t to cede public space to vagrants. Rather, it’s to get the treatable into treatment, the malcontents into custody, and give back the parks and the plazas to the public that pays for them.