"What We Ultimately Can Do Is Get It to a Whole 'Nuther Level by Automating All of Our Programs." - Gavin Newsom's Plan for Homeless Robots

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By Benjamin Wachs

This is part of our continuing effort to see if we can watch Gavin Newsom's entire State of the City address before it kills us.

Click here for all the Newsom-isodes.

Today Gavin is talking about the issue of homelessness, except when he's talking about panhandling. Homelessness is actually one of his strong suits as mayor, so perhaps it's no surprise that he's just a little extra self-righteous.

To watch it in drinking game form, take a shot every time Gavin says he's "proud" of something. If you can't drink that much, takes shots when he says "I get it."

I have run out of liquor. The prospect of watching the next one of these sober is terrifying.

00:00 - Gavin particularly wants to talk about the issue of poverty as it relates to the issue of homelessness.

The issue (a single issue?) of homelessness and panhandling "arguably, at times," "define the worst" of San Francisco.

Arguably, at time? Think you're letting us off a little easy there, Gavin?

00:34 - Ah hah, homelessness and panhandling are not the same thing! "Panhandling is not homelessness, homelessness is not panhandling," Gavin tells us. Everybody clear on that?

00:52 - San Francisco has "moved in a different direction" from the rest of the country.

"We believe, fundamentally, that food solves hunger, that shelters solve sleep, and that housing solves homelessness."

Sleep is a problem?

1:13 - We have a 10-year plan, with a "robust nature," to solve the problem of homelessness. "Now a lot of people across this country have adopted similar plans, but we're very proud of our plan."

Angela Alioto's leadership has made a big difference, and he's proud of that, too.

1:41 - Just over 8,500 people have been taken off the street over the last few years. And 2,434 of them are through Care Not Cash.

03:00 - The most difficult part is getting new units for those who are still homeless. It's like there's some kind of housing shortage in this city, or something.

04:30 - He's talking about the number of homeless people housed through various programs: it sounds vaguely like he's giving the daily stock report.

05:00 - He's now going through all the different sites in San Francisco where we house otherwise homeless people.

05:45 - "Here's some other units that are coming on line."

I assure you, sleep is not a problem.

06:27 - "We need to be doing more for homeless women."

06:56 - "Seniors" are "a big part of the portfolio commitment" over the next several years.

08:04 - We're also doing a rental subsidy program.

09:00 - More proactive "homeless outreach teams" will be put on the streets next year. This is good because, as he laboriously explains, the more outreach teams you have the more outreach you can conduct.

09:41 - "One of the things I'm particularly proud of as Mayor is engaging the public to be part of the solution around the issue of homelessness. It used to be before people would come up to me and say 'hey Mayor, what are you doing about homelessness out on the streets?' I'd say: 'Well, what are you doing?' And people wouldn't know how to react."

Maybe...that's... because they're not the Mayor?

10:04 - Apparently this was his way of saying that "We should engage together and be part of the solution!" But "The problem was, I didn't have any place to send them."

Then...maybe...you should have just answered the question?

10:11 - Now he does. "Project Homeless Connect" has had over 18,000 volunteers. He's thrilled by this. It's led to huge results, he says, and then lists basically the same results he attributed to his other programs.

11:14 - "It's something I couldn't be more proud of."

I've never met anyone who's been literally "bursting" with pride before, but I really do worry that Gavin's going to explode.

12:00 - "We also need to change people's behavior on the streets and sidewalks."

Ya think?

12:06 - "It's not right to run someone down the streets or sidewalks."

13:40 - "One of the areas that we're focused on is creating an 'alcohol impact area,' a good neighbor policy, in the Tenderloin with a lot of the liquor stores. Where we say 'Look, stop selling alcohol at 6 in the morning by giving payday loans to people, or becoming the rent payee on SSI, where you're basically becoming a bank and the only thing you're distributing is credit to get alcohol to people who clearly are abusing alcohol. Why don't we become good neighbors?"

I agree, but, still, you've got to admit: it's a business model.

14:40 - "We're going to roll out a new panhandling campaign: alternatives to panhandling." This begins with the "parking meters" that you put a quarter into instead of to panhandlers, and the donation goes to city services.

15:12 - It will continue with a "Giving Change is not Making Change" education campaign to encourage people not to give change to people on the streets.

15:19 - "Here's the reality," about giving money to panhandlers. "The overwhelming, not exclusively, but the overwhelming majority of the time that money's not being used for its intended or advertised purpose."

I don't know: that guy with the cardboard sign saying "Need drugs, want girlfriend," seems pretty truthful to me. And he ran Chrysler.

"And if it was I wouldn't do this campaign. It's killing people. There are guys who you give that last dollar to who go around the corner and shoot that dollar up and are dead. You don't see it as you drive away or walk away, you feel good that you've done something right. When in fact you really haven't. Doing something right sometimes takes even more responsibility than handing out money and walking away from the problem."

Amen brother.

16:48 - "Look at the quality of life citations" they are "disproportionately concentrated in the Tenderloin."

Could that be because it's where the poor people are?

18:00 - In a state of the city address, do you really need to know: 1) the name of the respite home; 2) it's bed capacity; 3) it's address; 4) that it's ADA compliant; 5) The capacity of its kitchen?

Or would that be too much information?

Because that's what he's given us... over and over again.

18:58 - He's back to talking about the Community Justice Center again. Curiously, he says it will "build capacity." Isn't that one of the things it explicitly won't do?

20:06 - "I don't think our shelters are worth much. They're lousy in almost every way. They're unsanitary, they're unsafe, and they don't do anything, from my perspective, substantively."

Gosh, someone should really do something about that. No, wait, someone really should HAVE done something about that. Because if there had been basic oversight in the first place, it never would have come to this.

22:13 - "Homelessness is a manifestation of poverty in the most acute terms."

Huh - I thought it was an architectural issue.

23:30 - To amuse myself, I try to imagine Eric Idle giving this speech.

That really is amusing.

24:30 - See, when Eric Idle goes on and on and on about mundane facts nobody cares about, it's somehow funny. And it's not just because he's British. If Gavin Newsom were British, he'd still be boring.

25:07 - "What we ultimately can do is get it to a whole 'nuther level by automating all of our programs."

All... of your homelessness programs?

Automate them?

So... like .. it would be robots living in the shelters?

25:10 - Oh! I see! He means creating an "online benefits calculator," so that homeless people can go online and calculate how many benefits they're eligible for, and apply right there.

Oh man ... there's so much wrong with this that I don't know where to begin. To start with, I guess, homeless people aren't always so good at filling out forms. Or going online. Or knowing the right answers to complicated eligibility questions. Or following through.

It could be a wonderful service for out of work tech sector employees who are down on their luck, but to make it work for hard core homeless is going to require so much coordinated effort that you might as well not have a one-form benefits calculator in the first place.

Also ... from the sound of things ... you're really screwed if you just want help with one thing, because the Online Benefits Calculator won't give you any information if you can't provide all of it, and gives you every program you're eligible for. Much like this state of the city address, you'd be forced to wade through hours of information you never asked for and don't want in order to find a potentially helpful tidbit.

Ironically, this looks like it's a step away from something Gavin's been absolutely right about in the past: getting people out, on to the streets, to create relationships with homeless people and help them ease into the system at the pace they can handle is the most effective approach. That's been a relatively big success story for him - why move away from it?

26:44 - Gavin says the calculator will "pay for itself" in the future. How? Is he planning to cut jobs once it's in place?

27:14 - "Foster care is part of poverty, is part of homelessness." He'll get no argument from me there.

28:03 - The city has been increasing the transitional housing opportunities for foster youth.

I have to say I really approve of that: to just kick these kids out when they turn 18 and say "you're on your own" has always struck me as cruel.

29:34 - "We've seen historic investments in affordable housing in this city."

Blah blah blah. Gavin: this isn't Bloomingdales. No one's impressed by how much you spend: we want big results for little money. So instead of going on about the price tag, please talk about the results.

To the extent that there are any.

30:59 - He wants to talk about rebuilding public housing. Last year the city of San Francisco put more money in to rebuilding public housing in the city than the federal government did nationwide. Over $95 million.

Ai yi yi... what did I just say about results rather than cost? For that kind of money, you'd think at least one of our public housing sites would be someplace that middle class people would want a piece of.

But somehow it never ends up that way. Dammit, if we're going to build a ghetto anyway, we might as well do it for cheap.

35:15 - Gavin hopes to give all public housing units WiFi in the next few months. Because there's too little porn in the 'hood.

37:47 - Gavin wants to give a "baby bond" to every child born in public housing. "This is something that, in 2009, I'm absolutely committed to."

Fair enough. I don't object, so long as it doesn't all get blown on expensive porn downloaded over free WiFi.

We could be setting ourselves up for a perfect storm, here.

40:35 - He concludes the presentation by talking about the need to combat the flight of the middle class, and African Americans, from San Francisco. He swears he has a plan for that: he says he'll be unveiling it in the new year.


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