For the last few days, there’s been someone sleeping on my corner. I remember passing them whilst walking the dog. I thought it was odd that the person was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk with twelve or so coats and suitcases scattered around them. However, living in San Francisco, just off Market street, I’m somewhat accustomed.
The next day the person was gone. The day after that the person returned. From night until well in the middle of the next day, they were still there sleeping under a pile of coats.
I have lots of thoughts in my head about people who are living on the streets. This was one of my first posts. I have some guilt around it…as if I should help them get back on their feet. I have a house and they don’t. I feel like a “have” and I feel like they are a “have-not”. However, fear of what a conversation with them might bring to me usually keeps me from getting involved with helping someone off the street. I feel like since they know where I live, I might be called upon when I’d rather not be called upon. I’ve been asked for money by desperate people way too often in this city. For this and other reasons, I just pass them.
Today as I pass, I find there is a fresh pile of “humanure” on the side walk. Right where my children and I walk every day. I was quite disgusted and assumed this person who had been sleeping twenty feet away had done this. I might have been wrong. It was time for them both to go in my mind.
A call to public works got a steam cleaning scheduled and a call to the police station had the person evicted from the corner. I felt guilty for calling the police to move them. Calling the authorities to bother someone less fortunate than me doesn’t bring me joy. This is when I had my next thought and this is where I need an expert opinion.
As someone who raises children, I’m aware of some extremely effective methods for raising an independent and responsible thinker. I apply some of these methods as best as I can. One of the principles that these methods are built on is this: Don’t reward behavior you don’t want else you condone it.
For example, when a child asks for something, don’t move until they say it as a polite request. If you get them water when they command you to, they learn to command you to get them water. This is obviously is not what one desires from a child. When children use potty talk, get up immediately and with a smile take their hand and say, “Oh, do you need to go to the bathroom.” This teaches the power and the appropriateness of words. It also gets you the behavior you want. Now, to my point.
It seems that the city of San Francisco wants to provide a safe, clean city for it’s residents with law and order. In order to provide this, they provide the services of police who will remove homeless people from your corner and a city cleaner to steam clean your sidewalk. The city provides these services free of charge. By providing these services, it seems to me the city condones vagrants sleeping and defecating on my neighborhood’s corner.
By allowing the behavior to exist and continue without consequence, the city therefore condones it. By allowing your children to command you to get their water, you condone it. This is the same to me. Now, you may not mean to condone your child commanding you, but this is the message received by the child because the child commanded water and received it. It worked to the child. The city may not mean to condone it, but this is the message sent to the vagrant. The city sends the message, “You can sleep here for free unless someone complains and feel free to poop on the sidewalk. We’ll clean it up.”
I think this is totally wrong wrong wrong. I think the city has taken the wrong approach by assuming the responsibility. I think the city should enforce that the responsibility lies with them. Experts please weigh in.