The 411 on 311

This shouldn’t even be news. But in San Francisco, anything touching homeless people, no matter how banal—do they have cell phones? what if we gave them dogs? what do uninformed tech con men or finance writers think should happen?—automatically becomes news. So news it became: 311 added a new category in its SF311 app: The first category for complaints in the app is now “Homeless Concerns.” The possible types of concern are: “Well-Being Check (Non-Emergency),” “Aggressive Behavior (Non-Emergency),” “Encampment,” “Clean Up – Waste,” “Clean Up – Shopping Carts,” “Clean Up – Other,” and then a dust bin category. The app allows complainants to include photos as well as longer textual descriptions of the complaint, and then lists most recent complaints and how they’ve been addressed.

Much of what drives complaints comes from the higher parts of human nature: You see a lot of folks who are concerned about the well-being of their unhoused neighbors and want to get help. Real health concerns are listed, many of which include documentation of consensual conversations with people who’d be glad for assistance.

But Darcel Jackson, who’s been homeless and is working on an app to help homeless people connect with services, was not wrong when he told the Examiner that this was a “snitch app”: For most requests for service, 311 responds by referring the issue to police, often “for homeless removal.” Meanwhile, while 311 is the responsible for managing the shelter wait list, homeless people aren’t able to access the wait list through the app.

And the app creates a venue for the whiniest segments of the privileged in San Francisco. The mentality—whether it’s an illusion or the reality—that the app creates is that the City’s action on homelessness should be driven by complaints, rather than by the knowledge and service requests of homeless people, and the experience and outreach of City department staff and service providers.

Fortunately for the discouraged, smart alecks have struck back. We’ve included below a few screenshots of the deeply negative impacts that the new SF311 app is already having, as well as a few of our favorite complaints submitted by our municipal wisecracking wags.

Panhandling is constitutionally protected. It’s not how most people would like to make money. But it’s not a crime, and SFPD doesn’t have a job creation program: How does a police referral help? The SF311 app is apparently a great tool for registering your concerns about the economic value of your neighbors. Here—as in many complaints—a health concern was met with a citation.

Thank Goodness for Wiseacres