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Once again, San Francisco voters are being forced to have the final say in how San Francisco administers its homeless program.

Thankfully, very few of you have ever been homeless, and know little of what it is like to live in, or to work in the City’s homeless programs. Regrettably, this lack of knowledge is often exploited by those whose ambition for political power exceeds their compassion for their community.

San Francisco’s Local Homeless Coordinating Board is an official governmental body created through legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the Mayor. The Local Board (an initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — HUD) was created to “ensure the accountability and oversight of the proposed system of programs, policies and services” of local homeless programs.

In March 2000, a Freedom Of Information Act request from the Coalition on Homelessness forced Mayor Willie Brown and his political machine operatives in the Mayor’s Office on Homelessness and at the Departments of Human Services, Public Health, Public Works, etc., to present to the Local Homeless Coordinating Board and the community a plan they developed during a series of secret meetings City staff held on Treasure Island. The plan was to “redesign” our emergency shelter system so that homeless County Adult Assistance Program (CAAP) recipients would be required to turn over all but $60.00 of their monthly welfare check in exchange for a shelter bed (see STREET SHEET, April 2000). Sound familiar?

The Local Homeless Coordinating Board, as it is supposed to do, researched this proposal, did an assessment of its impact with homeless service providers and homeless people, and cited its findings through the drafting of its five year plan, called the “Continuum of Care.” The federal government requires a Continuum of Care plan from any community seeking federal funds for its homeless programs. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed our Continuum of Care plan 11-0.

The Mayor refused to sign it. The Local Homeless Coordinating Board completely rejected the shelter “redesign” plan from the Mayor’s office.

The Mayor was pissed.

Supervisor Gavin Newsom voted in support of the Continuum of Care plan, but after some meetings with the Mayor and his staff, and some polling by his political consultants, decided that local frustration and anger regarding homelessness represented too ripe an opportunity for advancing his political career to turn down.

Prop. N, or “Care Not Cash” was born.

After a couple of quick, taxpayer-financed junkets with staff from DHS, DPH and the Mayor’s Homeless Coordinator to New York City, Chicago and points unknown, Newsom issued a press release with 22 proposals to “solve” the local homeless problem. The cornerstone of this was the recently rejected “redesign” proposal Newsom now touts to voters as his own plan — a plan that he authored.

The Mayor’s internal — and therefore much more honest — “redesign” proposal made no pretense about its intentions. It was designed to remove the presence of homeless people from downtown and save money by converting our shelter system into a “pay as you go” program. It also projected big savings because it recognized that some of the people currently identified as homeless on the CAAP rolls either wouldn’t or couldn’t stay in a shelter, and would then be cut from benefits. Marginally housed people (as many poor people are), staying with family, friends, etc. but not on the lease, as well as many disabled people or those living in their vehicles, would be discontinued from cash aid.

This was all seen as a good thing by the Mayor for three primary reasons. First and foremost, it would appease downtown business interests. Second, it would reduce the City’s homeless program budget without impacting the $100,000 per year bureaucrats who “oversee” it. And last but not least, the City would reduce the CAAP budget (by forcing people off it) without impacting the $100,000 yearly salaries of the bureaucrats who oversee that. This plan was rejected for three primary reasons as well. First and foremost was the obvious, drastic increase in homelessness and suffering it would cause. Second, it would be a very expensive, administrative nightmare to implement.

Third, even if you could get this system to work (which is doubtful) you’ll have achieved absolutely nothing.

Proposition N is Willie Brown’s shelter redesign proposal — with a lot less detail in it and a lot more bells and whistles on top. Brown’s staff wouldn’t even try to sell providers and homeless people that, magically, there will appear this plethora of treatment, hotel rooms and “services.”

Newsom’s campaign staffers are convinced that with the voter’s lack of knowledge on these issues they can sell the general public on it. We at the Coalition implore you to look beyond the hype of political campaigns and tourist industry billboards.

Ballot measures are not needed for the City to implement changes to our homeless program such as Proposition N. The City already has that authority. In fact, there exist several excellent, broadly-supported program changes in the Continuum of Care Plan, as well as the “Community Proposal” (see Feb. 2002 STREET SHEET) on homeless program accountability.

The Mayor’s office has done everything in its power to stymie these proposals, and Newsom voted AGAINST $50,000.00 funding for a tranportation program for homeless families in last June’s budget hearings — about what he spent on one 30 second commercial trying to convince all of us how much he cares about homeless people.

If Prop. N had the support of those with the greatest knowledge of homeless issues it would have been included in San Francisco’s Continuum of Care plan. It would have been passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed into being by the Mayor.

Please help us put an end to this growing practice of demonizing homeless people to gain political points. Read the information in this STREET SHEET. Join with people who know this issue from all perspectives.


To learn more, or to get involved, please check out the Committee Against Increased Homelessness.


Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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