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CITY HALL HOMELESS POLITICS = THE STATUS QUO

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As most STREET SHEET readers already know, Proposition N was thrown out in Superior Court on May 8th, 2003. The ruling stated that only the Board of Supervisors has the discretion to determine levels of public assistance, as outlined in the state Welfare and Institutions code. The state specifically put this in the law, as determining the economic rights of a discriminated minority by popular vote is often dangerous. State law ensures that complex issues relating to public assistance are decided by elected officials, who have access to comprehensive information — not just expensive commercials.

The lawsuit only affects General Assistance recipients, who are exempt from Proposition N; the other three programs, PAES, SSIP and CALM are still under Proposition N regulations.

The Department of Human Services has been moving forward with an implementation plan, even while the lawsuit was pending.

Because Proposition N itself was flawed, the implementation plan has already had devastating impacts on homeless people.

The implementation plan has several components, each of which creates multiple problems within the homeless system:

CHANGES TO LENGTH OF STAY

There is a reliance on shelter in the way Proposition N was crafted. Based on our budget analysis, already-funded shelter is the only thing DHS can offer without spending additional money. Therefore, in order to deduct the $300 from the 3,000 homeless welfare recipient’s checks, the welfare office must offer each homeless recipient a shelter bed. Unfortunately, the shelters are already full.

Shelter length of stays have changed substantially from a mix between maintaining emergency beds with short term stays and longer term beds to a system set according to income source. Under the implementation plan, non- CAAP shelter residents would be offered one night stays, whereas CAAP recipients would be offered 43 days on up.

This has been implemented at several sites — for example Multi- Service Center South had 69 beds change to one night stays. As a result (and the fact it was implemented over the weekend without proper notice), many people were displaced and shelter beds ended up going empty. There were three hour waits at the drop in centers multiple days in a row, where homeless people had to sign up for a bed that night. Many working people were unable to access this process as it took place in the morning.

We documented several situations where individual’s health issues were not accommodated. Individuals at this shelter continue to have to return daily to try to get a bed that night.

Shelter providers are extremely concerned that this will change the nature and stability of their programs. Programs tend to be more successful, and have fewer issues if there is a consistent group of people being served. Homeless people know the person in the bed next to them, and during their month long stay, they do not have a new person every night. This reduces conflict and creates a sense of community. One night stays destroy and destabilize both the community and the individual, making it impossible to garner trust and exit homelessness. In addition, some shelters cater to persons with disabilities, and this new system would eliminate that option. It would be impossible to have an accessible program if the person with a disability has to engage in a complicated access system on a daily basis. It would also be impossible to have a longer term relationship with the individual in order to ensure they are given every opportunity by the provider for treatment, housing and jobs.

DISPLACEMENT IN SHELTERS

The Department of Human Services is planning on prioritizing CAAP recipients in the shelter system as a way of maximizing cash assistance deductions. Prioritizing CAAP recipients will displace seniors, Immigrants, People with Disabilities, Working People, and people with no income from the shelter system.

The emergency shelter system should remain just that. It should be preserved for those most in need of it — those that are medically fragile, those who are disabled, those trying to maintain employment.

The following populations generally have other sources of income, and do not receive CAAP:

  • 20% of homeless people are seniors.
  • Approximately 40% of homeless people are veterans.
  • About 25% of homeless people have a physical disability and 30 – 40% have psychiatric disabilities.
  • 13% of shelter residents are immigrants.
  • 25% of homeless people are working.
  • Between 15% and 40% of any shelter in SF is made up of individuals receiving CAAP.

BIO-METRIC IMAGING

DHS also plans for all homeless people who are not on CAAP to get their picture taken at Resource Centers, where they can also “volunteer“ for a finger-image. They then go to the shelter, must pass their finger through a scanner which checks it against the DHS database. If they refuse to provide information or to have their finger scanned, they are denied shelter. Currently, this system is in place at three resource centers connected to some of the shelters. The system is constantly breaking down, has led to long wait periods and displacement of working people. Staffing costs are staggering, often with multiple persons working round the clock on this system at each site.

Bio-metric imaging — finger scans and photos — scare away many populations from services for very different reasons. Veterans may prefer to stay away from governmental institutions based on negative past experience, immigrants fear prosecution from the INS, people with certain mental illnesses have symptoms of paranoia which may prevent them from being able to get their picture taken, or run their finger through a machine. Our shelter system should be about engaging all homeless people into services.

Given we are in the midst of budget cuts, that affect every level of our homeless services, it is unthinkable that we should be spending money on a finger-imaging system that realizes no gain for homeless persons themselves.

Shelters and Resource Centers are concerned about their ability to provide the necessary staffing for fingerprinting. Agencies are already overburdened and struggling to serve their clients, with fewer resources both inside and outside their agencies.

HOUSING

During the campaign for Proposition N, 1,000 new units of housing were promised. In DHS’s implementation the numbers are recorded as a few hundred units. An Request For Proposals went out for 100 master-leased units in existing buildings.

We have documented several cases of seniors and families with children in these buildings being asked to move to make room for CAAP clients. DHS has continued denying that they are displacing anyone from housing — however it is not new housing that is being considered.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT

The issue of drug addiction and connecting people to treatment was central to campaign promises. While Department of Human Services has claimed they will be spending several million dollars on treatment, they have not secured, nor planned out where this treatment will take place.

New programs take several years to start, with contract process, building acquisition, program design and hiring. The Department of Human Services is planning on running an existing treatment program, Redwood Center, and taking over those 13 beds for CAAP recipients. Again, other populations will be displaced from treatment.

MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT

There are no plans for mental health treatment. While mental illness is central to homelessness, and addictive disorders, there are no real plans to provide additional treatment.

GROSSLY EXAGGERATED FINANCIAL ESTIMATES

The Department of Human Services estimates $14.2 million in savings from decreased cash assistance expenditures, which assumes every homeless CAAP recipient loses 100

% of their assistance.

This would mean all 3,000 were not only offered shelter beds or some other services as of July 1st, but that, all 3,000 were discontinued from or left aid, and there were no new applicants. This is not plausible. In addition, these funds are to go into a baseline budget that technically can be spent on whatever the Board of Supervisors chooses, at a time of severe rollbacks in expenditures for public health and other basic services. Public Health is proposing cutting over 500 mental health treatment slots, 3,500 substance abuse treatment slots and eliminating whole drop-in centers and homeless outreach teams. The total amount being cut far outweighs what will be saved under Proposition N. What Proposition N is doing, is setting up a tiered program within homeless programs where income source dictates level of service as opposed to need.

We strongly urge our readers to ask their District Supervisors not to implement Proposition N. It is unworkable and unjust. Voters were misled into supporting it, after over a million dollars were spent on campaigning. Elected representatives have a responsibility to look beyond political sound bites and take into account the entire population being affected. Proposition N may have looked good on the surface — a closer look shows it will create more homelessness and suffering.

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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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