- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The silver train rumbles past Rod Bonner's makeshift home, just feet from the tracks. Its cars are full of commuters riding into the city who see his shabby encampment every day.

The former construction worker has lived along the tracks beside mounds of garbage and clutter for two years. Last week, he and other homeless people were forced to pack up their meager belongings after a city crackdown forced everybody off the property owned by Union Pacific Railroad Co.

"This has become a political issue," Mr. Bonner said, sitting on his bicycle atop an unused set of tracks. "The beautiful people have to be subjected to seeing the root of all evil."

The decision came a month after city voters passed a measure to cut monthly cash allowances for the homeless from up to $390 a month to as little as $59 a month. The savings will be reallocated to create more services and affordable housing for the homeless.

City officials say the sweep has nothing to do with a political agenda to crack down on the homeless. Instead, they say, it's about cleaning up an unsanitary dumping ground filled with health hazards, such as rodents and dirty needles.

Clearing Mr. Bonner and dozens of others away from the tracks is just one of many cleanups that have uprooted homeless encampments. A couple of other large tent cities in the area also have been cleared and fenced.

"We're intolerant of people messing up the city," said Department of Public Works spokesman Alex Mamak. "Our issue is the beautification or removing trash or litter from San Francisco."

Union Pacific owns the strip of property that lies just below the tracks and runs parallel to Interstate 280. They gave the neighborhood of squatters until this week to move. Most of the squatters had left, but a few had to be rousted, said spokesman Mike Furtney of the company's western region. Once cleanup is complete, the area will be fenced off.

"My impression has been that it's an area used by the homeless as well as illegal dumpers for quite a period of time," Mr. Furtney said. "The other day when I was down there, at one point, I was standing in an area with 50 syringes just laying on the ground."

Activists contend the cleanup is an ongoing attempt to push the homeless out of sight and out of a city once considered a safe haven for those down on their luck.

"At this point, there's just not that many places to go now. People have been pushed out of every place," said Mara Raider, civil rights project coordinator at the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness. "San Francisco has become so inhospitable there aren't places for people to go."

Miss Raider said the homeless always have been pawns in San Francisco, where some politicians have been elected, then booted from power, based on their plans to help those on the streets.

She said last month's passage of the Care Not Cash measure to reduce monetary allowances for the homeless is just another example of an aspiring politician using the homeless to advance his career. The measure, proposed by Gavin Newsom of the city's Board of Supervisors, won by 59 percent. It will go into effect in July.

"I'm very proud of Care Not Cash," Mr. Newsom said. "For those that want to argue for the status quo, I'm not going to be in that increasing minority anymore. I think we're a more compassionate city today than we were a year ago."

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