During this year of severe budget cuts city-wide, where various programs are being targeted 100% and others’ funding is decreasing so much that it will be impossible to operate, the constant question being posed by those being cut is “how are City staff determining who should be cut”? The original thought was that the budget deficit could run as high as over $200 million, and other estimates have been around $175 million. As of two weeks ago the estimate seemed to have dropped to $130 million, but obviously it’s a moving target.
One of the many disturbing things about these cuts is the rationale behind how they are being made. The Mayor’s Budget Office issued directions to all city departments telling them to come in with a baseline budget 5 1/2 % lower than last year, then to add another 10% of provisional cuts. These directions were supposedly given to all departments, regardless of function within the City’s infrastructure. At the department level, it seems the staff took an approach of cutting areas which were seen as “enriched services” (as opposed to “core services”), rather than sharing the burden amongst all programs.
This was especially true in the two largest service departments of the City, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health. The net result of this approach from the Budget Office as well as the Departments is an extreme impact on the City’s social service delivery system, which is especially accessed by low-income people, and to the non-profit organizations which serve them.
One of the victims of this approach are employment and vocational services which support formerly homeless individuals living in supportive housing sites, which offer permanent, affordable housing with on-site support services and vocational opportunities. The purpose of supportive housing is to offer a comprehensive service system to individuals living in supportive housing so that they can become permanently housed and move towards total self-sufficiency. This includes support in the areas of housing retention, mental health and substance use, physical health, legal issues, and vocational training options. However, if one of these important elements is removed from the service system, it is no longer able to offer all that is needed for an individual to become selfsufficient.
And if the element being removed is that of the vocational and employment services, then the message is that all supportive housing provides is simply housing, and the tenants will not learn the skills necessary to further their lives. In any discussion with any person who has been homeless or poor and has lost any sense of self-worth, the first activity or service requested is either a job or something to do so that this sense of self-worthlessness will go away.
It is ironic that in this time where the idea and sight of homeless people is under such severe attack and scrutiny, that there would not be an interest in continuing funding and support to those very services which prevent or reduce the risks of an individual or family becoming homeless. It seems very short-sighted to cut employment, treatment, youth, eviction prevention, drop-in and other vital services which will basically create huge gaps in the support net used by thousands of San Franciscans every day. Cuts to these services will ultimately impact the ability of all service providers to be effective, and the funds thought to be saved will ultimately show up in another area with more emergency needs, i.e. hospitalization, incarceration or chronic unemployment costs.
Ending poverty and feeling of uselessness can only occur if individuals have the skills, motivation and self esteem necessary to obtain living-wage jobs or meaningful, productive activity. Services which promote these activities must be accessible and convenient in order to reach the very individuals under public scrutiny.
Ending funding to these services will leave many people poor and feeling useless. Worst of all, it will send a horrible message to lowincome individuals that the most they can hope for is perhaps a bed and someone to help them when they are in crisis.