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As was San Francisco, AS IS SACRAMENTO

Below, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, quoted from his recent book Basic Brown in a San Francisco Chronicle piece, titled "Gamed by the System" [emphases, mine]:

Once I became mayor, it soon became painfully clear to me that three-fourths of the folk living out there on the streets were out there without any possibility of ever getting off the streets. Not because there was no opportunity. Not because there was no shelter or housing available. Not because there were not enough mental health programs. Not because there were no drug abuse programs. We were providing those and, of course, we could do more. The will to provide services and shelter was there.

I discovered factors - some bureaucratic, some political - working in a kind of evil synthesis with each other that really prevented the long-term homeless from entering the system. For one, the rules and regulations of the welfare system wouldn't let us require people to go into the treatment protocols or processes that could lead to their maybe breaking out of the cycle of poverty, hopelessness, homelessness. To me this was tantamount to condemning people to a prison of the streets.

Backing this up was a collection of so-called activists with heavy political clout who absolutely believed (and still believe) that homeless people should have a right to live on the street. They believed that homeless people had an absolute right to do everything they were doing, no matter how harmful to themselves or to the rest of the citizenry.

Opposing them was an army of businesspeople, small and large, who didn't want the homeless anywhere near them. Shop owners in the neighborhoods were furious, frustrated and fiery. Hotel owners and managers, of course, didn't want the homeless within sight of the tourists who come to San Francisco. These people wanted draconian action, they wanted law enforcement.

You had all sorts of deep division within the polity and no side capable of budging. It was a nightmare. Here was a more dire example of the situation I encountered on lesser problems: selfishness and self-righteousness preventing people from coming to serious dialogue. They wouldn't budge and you couldn't wedge them.

In the legislature and in general political conflicts, I usually had been able to nudge sides out of their selfishness by showing them how outrageous they were actually being. In this situation, especially with the so-called homeless advocates, they were feasting on their outrage. Their moral indignation was their very food. And self-righteousness is not on the menu at the bargaining table. The selfishness was astonishing to me.


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