Investigating the fine line of legality in the SF Bay Area


July 3, 2015

On the bottom floor of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, a group of people sits on flimsy, white, plastic holding chairs around a television that plays a movie. Some people choose to just relax on small beds, listening to the soothing music playing. Others are conversing amongst each other, asking about how they have been doing. The Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, also known as MNRC, in San Francisco is an organization that combats a huge issue in the city – homelessness.

Even with the countless efforts to get people out of the streets, the homeless population number is only growing. Many factors contribute to this problem – mental illnesses, incarceration, disabilities, family violence, greedy landlords, loss of a job, and many more. Providing shower access, dental check ups, storage lockers, clinic services, and therapy appointments, the center is a place for homeless people to drop by and receive the care they need. “I’ve been coming here since April this year. It’s a good place – really is good – I’d be lost … this place keeps me going,” Abe, a man who goes there almost every day, said. On a daily basis, about 260-300 people visit MNRC for their essentials, stated by Laura Guzman, the director of the daytime shelter.

According to Guzman, the main goal of the program is to help people pick their lives up and find a place to live permanently. “Displacement” is an important word she uses to explain the growing number of people not being able to find affordable places to stay in. Guzman said increasing rent prices are the biggest cause of homelessness in San Francisco.“Airbnb has taken 40 percent of all the rentals, to rent it to tourists that have a lot of money.” She has seen many people lose their homes through this and hopes in the future for more affordable housing. The average age of her clients is 40-55 years old, but she has seen people ranging from 18 to 80.

When imagining homeless people out in public, many may visualize negative things, like drugs, alcohol, or trash. Abe, who now frequents the shelter, says he held these same misconceptions before he lost his home. “I always thought people that were homeless [were] lazy, drug dealers, drunks … but sure, there are still people like that out there that way… but there’s a lot of people out there like myself that [have] had good jobs and everything, and you find yourself where your rent’s too high or you get burnt out.” Abe lost his shared apartment after his roommate refused to make a deal with him about paying the rent, and their landlord evicted them.

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A mural on Clarion Alley in the Mission District of San Francisco depicts the brutal treatment of the city’s homeless population.

A rising conflict that many cities around America face is the criminalization of the homeless. In San Francisco, “aggressive” panhandling is illegal, remnant of laws created back during the Depression because of the huge number of people who were begging. It is also becoming harder for people to give food to the hungry on streets. For example, Fort Lauderdale, a city in Florida, recently implemented an ordinance which put extreme restrictions on distributing food to the homeless, including banning public food sharing.

Homelessness is a tough problem that demands more awareness and action. While it may seem like an issue that can never be fixed, anyone can help a homeless person, whether it is by giving a couple dollars or an inexpensive meal.

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