SAN FRANCISCO -- A new law barring violent individuals from homeless shelters has drawn the ire of some homeless rights advocates, who worry the rule will lead to acts of discrimination against people severely in need.
"I think it opens up a lot of doors we really don't want to open up," Ken Dotson, a member of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and editor of Street Sheet, told The Huffington Post.
San Francisco's Human Services Commission approved the rule, which gives shelter staff the power to “issue an immediate denial of service for threats of violence or acts of violence committed by a client in the process of accessing shelter services outside the shelter,” last month in response to a fatal stabbing that occurred at a homeless shelter last February. Previously, shelter staff were not allowed to deny access to individuals based on their behavior outside the building.
City "homeless czar" Bevan Dufty applauded the move. "The behavior around the shelter has a lot to do with how a facility is accepted in the community," he told the San Francisco Examiner.
Indeed, staff at SoMa's Multi-Service Center South, the shelter where the deadly stabbing occurred, told city officials that violence outside their facility was on the rise and would likely move inside.
But Dotson insists that the new rule does not present a fair solution to the problem. "If someone needs emergency services desperately and we're targeting them, it gives shelter staff a lot of power to act in a corrupt manner," he told HuffPost. "They would have the ability to discriminate against people they don't want in their facilities."
Coalition Director Jennifer Friedenbach also objected to the ban's ambiguous "threats of violence" wording, explaining to the Examiner that the long lines outside shelters often trigger "bad moods."
According to Dotson, the city offers roughly 1,139 beds for single adults and less than 100 for families. A recent count estimated San Francisco's homeless population to be 6,455, but advocates say the figure is likely at least double that.
About 200 individuals are denied access to the city's homeless shelters each month for reasons ranging from drugs to curfew violations. Dotson worries that the new ban will only exacerbate the problem.
"We're heading down a slippery slope," he said. "Where do we draw the line?"