Monday, August 6, 2012
When the sit/lie law was passed by city voters in November 2010, outlawing sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., its purpose was to help clear the streets of loitering panhandlers. And in the Haight, the most visible manifestation of that type is the horde of wannabe hippie kids and gutter punks smoking pot and begging for change, often with equally homeless dogs in tow.
But that's not who McCloud, O'Brien and Dequina are.
They are old, in street terms - 50, 40 and 37, respectively. They are not just passing through on a countercultural tour of the West Coast, like many of the street kids fleeing dysfunctional homes or trying bohemianism on for size. They are longtime indigents, dating to at least the mid-2000s, and they are longtime alcoholics.
McCloud has received 46 sit/lie citations since the law began being enforced in spring 2011, according to available city records. O'Brien has received 34, and Dequina has received 25. Even though the penalties can rise to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, the three have ignored every citation.
McCloud was arrested July 18 in the Haight on seven misdemeanor charges and warrants ranging from theft to trespassing and failure to appear in court, and spent most of the next two weeks in jail. She was released last Monday, but jailed again Tuesday after missing a court hearing.
As with many chronically homeless people, however, the bravado is an overlay masking a crippling inability to successfully negotiate a way off the street, say social workers, counselors, police - and, in contemplative moments, the older alcoholics themselves.
Haight Street merchants were the ones who originally raised the outcry for the sit/lie law, saying roaming rabble ruined their business atmosphere, but the reality of living with homelessness is not black and white.
Some say the law has helped, others say it hasn't. Either way, residents and businesspeople are for now left with the challenge of coexistence alongside deeply dysfunctional people, whether they like it or not.
In its first year of enforcement, the sit/lie law resulted in hundreds of citations being issued, but those have predominantly been in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where merchants are divided on whether it's been effective.