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Proposition N and How Many Different Ways Can You Screw Homeless People?

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After spending nearly a million dollars, and starting with polling numbers at 74% support, Prop N passed with 59% of voters (22% of registered voters/11% of San Franciscans) voting yes. Proposition N slashes cash assistance by 85%, leaving homeless welfare recipients with only $59 a month. This will, of course be devastating.

Anyone losing that much of their income feels it, and when you start with less then $400 a month, the loss is breathtaking. The Coalition on Homelessness stands firmly behind its stance of opposition to Proposition N, as we know that cash assistance is a critical solution to homelessness.

Recipients who are not disabled or in job training are required to work, sweeping streets or cleaning buses, for their grant. Prop N would drop their wages down to $1.84 an hour. Homeless people need treatment, living wage jobs and housing to exit homelessness. None of these are contained in Proposition N.

A lawsuit against Prop. N was filed on behalf of a homeless women and a housed voter November by the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights.

While the Coalition on Homelessness is not a part of the lawsuit, we stand in solidarity with the lawyers who filed the lawsuit to stop the implementation of Proposition N.

As the lawsuit contends, Proposition N did not belong on the ballot. The rights of a discriminated minority should not be decided by popular vote. This election process was then manipulated and voters were misled through the proponent’s shameless spending.

Throughout U.S. history, whenever the majority of a community has punitively attacked the minorities in that community, people have turned to the courts for the protection of individuals. Left solely to the wishes of the voting majority, the south would still have Jim Crow laws on the books and people of color riding in the back of the bus.

Proposition N is slated to come into effect July 1st 2003. Unfortunately, the City can implement it earlier and it looks like they will unless the lawsuit stops them. The Department of Human Services is charged with implementing Proposition N and they have been meeting behind closed doors to scheme. They have not invited community participation in these meetings, and have not even shared the minutes of these meetings, even though they are required by law to do so.

This is scary considering the politics of Prop N. It was proposed by a Mayoral candidate (the hand-picked successor to the current Mayor), and backed by big business and property owners. The current Mayor appointed the current Director of the Department of Human Services, who illegally supported Prop N throughout the campaign, going to editorial board meetings during work hours, etc. The Mayor’s race, many believe, is contingent on the successful implementation of Proposition N. The Director of the Department of Human Services, Trent Rhorer, is charged with implementing it. Does this smell funny?

We submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to the Department of Human Services, and surprise, surprise, we get information back that taken in full represents an attempt to ensure Proposition N appears successful at the expense of other homeless people and the entire homeless system!

Systems can be manipulated to certain ends, to look one way, to show certain results, but these are only the surface and unreflective of the entire reality. Let’s explain. The information we received includes an analysis of the shelter system whereby certain percentages of beds are set aside for welfare recipients. They figure out how much money they can save based on setting aside 100%, 55%, or 45% of shelter beds for this population.

Any “set-asides” mean disabled people and working people no longer have access to those beds.

They also figure how they can save more money by having higher percentages of people refuse shelter. How is this achieved? Simple, you make your shelters undesirable! You fingerprint! You add a bunch of hurdles to shelters to make it hard for disabled people to access them! You can do all kinds of things. Why? Because the more empty shelter beds, the more people on welfare you can move into the empty beds, the more money you can save to spend on things like fingerprinting and the more you can claim success!

Success equals Mayor’s seat. Mayor’s seat equals Trent Rhorer gets to keep his job!

All this sound far fetched — maybe, but it really isn’t. They lay out the timelines for fingerprinting in the information they sent us. They want to fingerprint all homeless people as part of the implementation. This would scare away a lot of homeless people with mental illnesses, and a lot of people who are undocumented (neither of these groups are likely to be on welfare). It would also cost a whole lot of money at a time when homeless services are being gutted. You may be asking why fingerprint homeless people – to bust them for sleeping in two beds at once or what? Well there is no good reason besides “everyone is getting fingerprinted nowadays.” Sounds great to us! Waste a little more money on your bureaucracy why don’t you? They would need to hire extra personnel and give a whole lot of money to profit-sucking security companies who have made millions across the country off poor people on this little scam.

They also want to move the Public Health shelters to Human Services. Public Health runs A Man’s Place and A Women’s Place. They are no better or worse then other shelters, but they do operate with a different philosophy. While Human Services shelters tend to follow a structured welfare model of “mandatory case management” and “movement towards self-sufficiency,” Public Health shelters tend to be “low threshold,” with few requirements, easy access processes, and few hurdles. They tend to be the places where the most disabled homeless people end up. The folks who are more likely to be distrustful and exist outside the system. It is critical to maintain a diverse shelter system, because individuals have varied and complicated needs that cannot be met with a cookie cutter approach. A Human Services controlled shelter system would likely homogenize the shelter system.

Another step in the rearrangement of chairs on deck of the titanic, is the proposal to change Health Department housing access processes. This is classic Human Services. They want to show success of their welfare clients at any and all costs without regard for the effect on other homeless people. Health Department housing is currently set aside for disabled people, primarily leaving the hospital. See the idea is to not send quite as many sick, close to death people back onto the streets to be left for dead. Human Services wants to change the access to be out of the shelters. See that way they can have a higher success rate in the shelters for their clients, and can boast they got them into housing.

Rest assured, this fight is not over. We will be tracking implementation, demanding a community process for implementation and all kind of other demands for housing treatment and jobs for homeless people! For more information, come to one of the meetings listed on the back of the STREET SHEET or call us at 346-3740.


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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