SF Chronicle Writer Exposes How City Policies Are Punishing Homeless Man's Self-Reliance

June 4th, 2009 1:34 PM

From time to time, I like to highlight when the media do something right, so today I thought I'd give hearty kudos to San Francisco Chronicle's C.W. Nevius for his June 4 column, "Bureaucrat scuffs dream of homeless shoe shiner."

In his page A1 story, the Chronicle columnist informs readers of the plight of a homeless man who, rather than panhandling for spare change, decided to earn his own money by shining shoes.

But it seems the enterprising man is now being punished for his responsibility and entrepreneurial spirit by city bureaucrats shoving red tape in his face:

He sleeps under a bridge, washes in a public bathroom and was panhandling for booze money 11 months ago, but now Larry Moore is the best-dressed shoeshine man in the city. When he gets up from his cardboard mattress, he puts on a coat and tie. It's a reminder of how he has turned things around.

In fact, until last week it looked like Moore was going to have saved enough money to rent a room and get off the street for the first time in six years. But then, in a breathtakingly clueless move, an official for the Department of Public Works told Moore that he has to fork over the money he saved for his first month's rent to purchase a $491 sidewalk vendor permit.

"I had $573 ready to go," Moore said, who needs $600 for the rent. "This tore that up. But I've been homeless for six years. Another six weeks isn't going to kill me."

The bureaucrat told Moore that she found out about his business after reading about his success in this paper.

Along Market Street, Moore's supporters are indignant. Nothing happens when mentally ill men wander the street talking to themselves and drunkards pee in the alleys. Yet Moore creates a little business out of thin air, builds up a client base, and the city takes nearly every penny he's earned.

Nevius went on to document that Moore has had a tough go of jumping through the city's legal hoops and failed to find any helpful souls in the bureaucracy:

Moore is nothing if not dutiful. He attempted to work his way through the byzantine city government channels, although he didn't get much help.

"I guess my gripe is that when the city came by and told him to get his papers in order but couldn't tell him how to do it," said Travis See, who manages the Custom Shop Clothiers on the corner of Market and New Montgomery. "This lady couldn't even tell him which building to go to so he could stand in line and waste all day."

When Moore found the permit application, he got a money order and headed down to the appropriate department to pay. But because he didn't have a valid ID card, they wouldn't take his money.

Could this be any more difficult? Moore doesn't want to get into city housing, preferring to make it on his own. But could you blame him if he gave up, kicked back and settled into a life of panhandling, subsidized housing and soup kitchen meals?

Nevius is on to something. Big government policies that punish self-reliance while making mooching off the public dole encourage homeless men to be panhandling bums. Public policymakers should encourage, not discourage, the Larry Moores of the world, and Nevius and the San Francisco Chronicle do well to inform the public so as to allow for public pressure to build in that direction.