Tough Love

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Mohammed Nuru sucks,
Sweeps do, too

Mayor London Breed has talked a lot lately about taking a ‘tough love’ approach when addressing the needs of San Francisco’s homeless population. It’s an odd, shitty, and shameful attitude for a city to take towards those whom life has already been toughest to, but it’s nothing new. In 2016, one week before Christmas, then-mayor Ed Lee called for a ‘tough love’ approach to homelessness, including prosecution of sit-lie laws. In the Spring of 2018, during a SoMa press conference in which he threw the City’s robust and successful needle exchange and HIV/HCV prevention services under the bus, interim Mayor Mark Farrell said that San Francisco had gone from being ‘compassionate to enabling,’ while also calling for – wait for it – ‘tough love.’

Roses are red
Violets are expensive 
When asked about sweeps
Breed gets defensive

Mayor Breed may talk about having a ‘Bold Approach to Homelessness,’ but there’s nothing bold about being tough on African-Americans, folks with disabilities, LGBTQ youth, or any of the other vulnerable folks who are over-represented in San Francisco’s homeless population. The single adult shelter waitlist has been at 900+ people for months now, while the average in 2019 was over 1000. For the thousands of San Franciscans forced to sleep outside, tough love = tough shit.

 Roses are dark
Lilacs are pale
Give up your tent
Or you’ll go to jail

While brooms across San Francisco are at half mast mourning the recent loss of disgraced Public Works chief Mohammed Colin Nuru, the City continues to violate the human rights of its unhoused residents with encampment sweeps. Residents of encampments are dislocated by SFPD and DPW sweep crews every day, but weeks can go by without ever seeing members of the Homeless Outreach Team. These sweeps, coordinated through the Healthy Streets Operation Center, often result in repeated confiscation and destruction of any and all personal property — including vehicles, tents and other shelter, survival gear and life-saving medications — as well as citations and arrests. That’s what ‘tough love’ looks like in a city where over 80 police officers are tasked with responding to homelessness, and the Homeless Outreach Team only has 40 members.

 Roses are flowers
Daisies are, too
It’s 1:30am
Where can I poo?

‘Tough love’ has been a phrase used by thirty years of mayors and elected officials when talking about homelessness in San Francisco. It’s a cute phrase, and allows politicians to ignore the underlying systemic housing and public health issues, and instead make a ‘tough on crime’ speech, as if homelessness is a problem that society can arrest and prosecute its way out of. San Francisco has more anti-homeless laws on the books than any other municipality in California – if criminalisation worked, it would have worked by now. HSH Director Jeff Kositsky said in a December 2019 interview with the SF Chronicle, ‘Law enforcement doesn’t work anyway for solving homelessness,’ but Mayor Breed became the latest mayor to start trumpeting ‘tough love’ in January of 2020. SFPD and DPW play the lead role in the City’s daily interventions with unhoused residents, shelter capacity is insufficient and heavily waitlisted, and with only approximately 500 housing exits available each year, thousands of San Franciscans end up spending years on the streets as the victims of City ‘tough love’ campaigns. In the case of San Francisco, love stinks.