A poll commissioned by a local business group contends that 70% of the Bay Area wants to see the homeless population forced into conservatorships (or something) if they won’t take shelter, and claims their results should be seen as “a screaming wake-up call.”
We don’t actually know with any certainty whether the homeless population in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area has significantly increased during the pandemic, because we have delayed the biennial “homeless census” point-in-time count a year because of the pandemic. (It was last conducted in 2019, we expect to have this year’s results in June or July.) Angry anecdotal accounts on Twitter insist the issue is worse than ever, as they have for years, but the city has made magnificent strides in acquiring shelter properties, so it will be interesting to see how the numbers pan out.
But now a gaggle of CEOs and business interests just released a new poll on the matter. The San Francisco Business Times reports that the poll claims 86% of the Bay Area thinks that homelessness has gotten worse in what the poll defines as the “last couple of years,” and 70% feel that that “it’s “time to get tough on the unsheltered who refuse shelter and treatment.”
“This is not about villainizing homeless, this is about treating the awful human suffering and misery on our streets and sidewalks with the urgency it deserves,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, who commissioned the poll. "These poll results should be a screaming wake-up call to our state and local leaders that the status quo is simply unacceptable. We need to get outside our comfort zone, break down institutional and bureaucratic barriers and be willing to try bold approaches that may not make everyone happy.”
Who exactly is this Bay Area Council, who commissioned the poll? Their membership shows a roster of recognizable CEO names (including the president and publisher of the San Francisco Business Times itself, plus Examiner owner Clint Reilly). Their executive committee also includes 49ers CEO Jed York, Giants CEO Larry Baer, and real estate magnates like the CEO of Shorenstein Properties.
And boy does this group like to put out polls, which all seem to confirm the hell-in-a-handbasket narrative. Back in 2016, they put out a poll saying that one-third of the Bay Area was "likely to move out of the Bay Area in the next few years." Well, here it is a few years later, and the Bay Area population is slightly larger, despite some degree of possibly temporary pandemic exodus.
And we are not saying this is a bogus poll, but the pollster asked a kind of a leading question of 1,000 Bay Area residents that seems designed to produce a specific result. Respondents were asked to choose between “It is time to get tough on the unsheltered who refuse shelter and treatment,” and “Just like anyone else, the unsheltered have a right to live however they choose.”
That framing ignores the reality that we don't have the shelter beds to shelter everyone, and we actually have lengthy waiting lists for those beds. And this is the same Bay Area Council that put out a poll last week saying 65% of Bay Area residents were avoiding going into downtown areas because of crime. There are perceptions that San Francisco is getting worse in every imaginable way, but ironically, it could be our captains of industry driving some of those perceptions.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist