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San Francisco Spends $20 Million on Anti-Homeless Laws

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Millions of dollars resulted in 125 arrests in 2015

Last year, San Francisco spent $20.6 million to arrest 125 people on misdemeanor quality-of-life charges, most of them homeless.

That means that of 60,491 complaints, only 0.2 led to arrest, with an additional 4,711 (8.3 percent) getting a citation. Over a quarter of these calls (15,164) yielded no result at all, as the suspect had simply left the area by the time cops arrived.

That’s the diagnosis from a budget analyst’s report issued Wednesday to Supervisor Eric Mar’s office about the cost and efficacy of the city’s 36 quality of life laws. Of the $20 million we spend every year responding to complaints about sleeping on the sidewalk, camping in the park, panhandling on Muni or near ATMs, or public intoxication, 90 percent goes to SFPD.

Although the number of homeless in the city increased only 3.9 percent since 2013, the number of complaints about them has leaped nearly 35 percent.

Some will be eager to point the finger for this at thin-skinned techies who write open letters about the homeless, but the report also speculates possibilities like greater drug use among homeless populations. The increasing density of the city may also be a factor: The more people we cram into a neighborhood, the more likely one of them will call in a complaint.

Police are required by law to respond to calls, "so any increases in resident calls will lead to increased costs for the city," as the report notes. One can only wonder whether or not it's worth spending $18 million on SFPD (and $1.8 million on the Department of Emergency Management, $188,000 for Park and Recreation, nearly $44,000 for 311 to field complaints, et al.) to roust a relatively small number of offenders.

The budget analyst’s office, for their part, recommend that the city stop sending police officers to these calls, suggesting that other city departments might handle the situation better (and more cheaply). On Facebook, local non-profit the Coalition on Homelessness had its own frank assessment. To wit: "San Francisco is ruining homeless people's lives and wasting money. It’s like pissing in the wind."

Most of the attention stirred up by the report focused on the city’s sit/lie law, passed by voters in 2010. The San Francisco Examiner points out that the Justice Department argued last year that a ban on sleeping in public places is unconstitutional.