Religious leaders decry police citations of the
homeless as cruel and immoral
Faith leaders demonstrate number of quality of life citations
issued since 2004
Photo(s) by Stephen Dorian
By Pat Murphy
September 1, 2006
San Francisco faith community leaders Thursday decried City
homeless policy as immorally sweeping the homeless into the criminal
While praising elements of that policy, they called for an end
to police citation of passive quality of life misdemeanors such
as sleeping in public space.
Some 31,230 quality of life citations were issue from January,
2004, through June, 2006, at a City cost of $5,785,116, reported
Sister Bernie Galvin of Religious Witness with Homeless People,
a Catholic nun who organized the morning City Hall press conference.
She first lauded elements of City policy.
"Mayor Gavin Newsom is to be commended for prioritizing,
in practice, supportive housing as the most basic solution to
homelessness," Galvin began.
"This is the solution that Religious Witness with Homeless
People has advocated for twelve years.
"Homeless people's access to services has been facilitated
through Mayor Newsom's Project Homeless Connect.
"San Francisco's long history of extending a wide variety
of crucial services to homeless people continues. Delivery of
these services is carried out by hundreds of hard-working and
truly caring men and women in the Department of Human Services
and the Department of Public Health, and in City funded non-profit
"Particularly worth noting is the work of 12 Department
of Public Health social workers dedicated to fulltime, direct
outreach to homeless persons," Galvin noted.
She termed other portions of City homeless policy as "cruel
To this very day San Francisco continues its shameful, immoral,
and reprehensible 14-year-long history of criminalizing homeless
people through the aggressive enforcement of quality of life ordinances,"
"Every year thousands of the homeless members of our community
are cited, arrested, dragged through the courts, and even jailed
for such crimes as sleeping or camping on the sidewalks or in
the parks and even in their own vehicles.
"We religious leaders are deeply disturbed by the mean-spiritedness
of this punitive part of our current policy on homelessness.
"We come today compelled to speak out once again about this
injustice and the subsequent suffering and pain our homeless sisters
and brothers endure."
Mayor Newsom did not respond to four requests made since November
to meet with the group, Galvin asserted.
Instead, the group was referred to Trent Rhorer, director of
the Department of Human Services with whom they had one meeting,
Group members rejected perception that they portray being homeless
as a grant of immunity.
"First of all we do not advocate that any person in San
Francisco, homeless or otherwise, who commits a crime, who threatens
the health and well being of another person, we do not propose
that that person not be dealt with appropriately," responded
Unjust laws morally require resistance, said Methodist Reverend
"We need to have the accountability, the moral accountability,
to understand that when laws are unjust," maintained Rhodes.
"We have to have the moral clarity to understand that just
because something is the law doesn't mean that it's right.
"We have to understand that the extermination of eight million
Jews was perfectly legal.
"When we starting addressing issues of law we need to come
underneath it with a solid foundation of moral clarity - so certainly
if there's laws being broken by anyone that threaten the betterment
of the community that needs to be addressed."
Selective enforcement of law is weighted against the homeless,
asserted Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan.
"I just want to point out that having a home is also not
a grant of immunity," Wolf-Prusan retorted a Sentinel question.
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan
"There are no grants of immunity, but I want to point out...
the sample citation here is for having an open container.
"Which means that the next time they have a Stern Grove
Music Festival and someone opens a bottle of Chardonnay sitting
in a public space this citation should be issued.
"When we see that, when we see everyone at Golden Gate Park
being booked for having an open container in a public space then
we will see equity in the administration of the law," Wolf-Prusan
Galvin acknowledged citation record keeping does not identify
those cited as housed or homeless.