Former Homeless Man in SF: ‘They Literally Pay Me to Be Here’

Ilene Eng
By Ilene Eng
August 30, 2019USshare

SAN FRANCISCO—California’s homeless problem is an ongoing issue. Two mayoral candidates, one current and one former, say it’s due to some of the cities’ policies.

The Tenderloin district in San Francisco is one of the areas with the highest population of homeless.

Richie Greenberg, a community advocate who ran for mayor last year, said the homeless situation in the city has worsened.

“Some of them are the most severe, mentally ill, chronic, out on the streets. Overnight, they sleep in alleyways; they sleep in storefronts and cardboard boxes. This is the most unfortunate,” said Greenberg.

NTD Photo
Richie Greenberg says there needs to be more accountability for homeless outreach organizations in San Francisco on Aug. 28, 2019. (NTD/Ilene Eng)
NTD Photo
San Francisco candidate Ellen Lee Zhou (L) hears from James (R) first hand what benefits he received when he was homeless on Aug. 28, 2019. (NTD/Ilene Eng)

Ellen Lee Zhou is running for San Francisco mayor this year. She says that if elected, she will address the homeless problem by getting rid of illegal drugs.

“They’re just regular people. Regular people have homes; regular people have jobs until they get messing up with their minds by taking drugs. That’s right, in order to solve the homeless problem, eliminate illegal drugs, to start,” said Zhou.

Zhou says she would prevent the city from giving out free needles to drug users. She believes this is part of why the city has deteriorated over the years.

Instead of calling for more resources for the homeless, she’s advocating the opposite.

“The more money we spend on homeless in San Francisco, we attract a lot of new, non-San Franciscans,” said Zhou.

“Most of them specifically, [came] to take advantage of a generous, liberal government and nonprofit outreach organizations,” said Greenberg.

Formerly homeless, James came from Florida for such benefits. He now works in the city.

“Basically they pay for the rent, and then I get $200 on top of that. So let’s say, $200 in EBT, $200 in cash, and a place to live. So they literally pay me to be here,” said James.

But he doesn’t see that as a good thing. He said it also attracted violent people.

“It’s a traumatic experience just being here. Because almost every day, you know there’s people hurting people, people have threatened my life; now I have to carry a weapon. It’s just dangerous. That’s why I want to get out of here,” said James.

According to Greenberg, there are many homeless outreach organizations raising money to help the homeless. But some haven’t been very effective. The biggest problem, he says, is a lack of accountability.

One audit released in 2016 (PDF) shows a list of organizations and how much money they received for the past three fiscal years. The amount received ranged from $195,000 to over $53 million.

“All that we can see is how much money they were given from us, from the city,” said Greenberg. “We need to know how it’s being spent, who’s getting it, and how effective is their program. If any of those organizations and nonprofits are basically ineffective, we need to cut off the funds. Why are we giving these organizations any money at all?”

Time for a change in the city’s politics?

San Francisco has had Democratic mayors since the 1960s. The last Republican mayor was George Christopher, who finished his term in 1964, 55 years ago.

According to Greenberg, because the city has been Democratic for so long, conservative ideas are often seen as unpopular. Therefore, people who wish to vote for more conservative values feel discouraged.

Regardless of party affiliation, both Zhou and Greenberg encourage people to be more aware of the current issues. Then they can understand better how to help fix their city.

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