In November of 2002, voters passed Proposition N, a piece of legislation that slashes homeless adult public assistance checks by 85%. Voters were promised that homeless people would get a whole host of new services such as substance abuse treatment, and housing in its place. The General Assistance portion of the initiative was overturned in court over seven months later. The Board of Supervisors is now considering identical legislation to fully implement the initiative.
A recent report issued from the Budget Analyst found what we have been saying all along. Proposition N will not work, does not fulfill campaign promises, and will in fact potentially displace 610 disabled and working homeless people out of shelter. While proponents spent over a million dollars to pass the initiative, their clear goal was to launch the proposition’s author into the Mayor’s office. They conducted extensive research and found that voters were extremely concerned with the homeless issue and were incensed with the lack of responsiveness from city hall. It was in this vacuum that Proposition N was born.
During this time, the Coalition on Homelessness, along with homeless people and community members had been actively seeking solutions to homelessness, developing proposals and bringing them forward. The City, meanwhile, developed the Continuum of Care, the five-year needs assessment required by the federal government. The Coalition on Homelessness participated on the drafting of this plan along with hundreds of homeless people, service providers and community members. The Board of Supervisors supported the Continuum of Care, and many of the recommendations contained in the document have already been implemented.
While the Continuum of Care, along with countless Coalition on Homelessness proposals, contain carefully crafted solutions to homelessness, there are literally hundreds of recommendations. They don’t fit into sexy sound bites, nor are they necessarily issues that will launch a political career.
They will however, make a real difference in the lives of homeless people, as they come directly from homeless people themselves and service providers. Our most recent report, entitled “A Ten Point Program to Immediately Address Homeless Programs” contains some relatively simple steps the City can immediately take to address homelessness.
They should not be viewed as comprehensive solutions to homelessness. They are an offering to the city during this time that homelessness is being hotly debated. They are positive steps City Hall can take to address homelessness without hurting homeless people.
We have long known how to solve homelessness, and we know why homelessness exists. Proposition N is one of a long line of policy decisions that have directly led to homeless people out on the streets and institutionalized in jails and shelters. Massive federal housing cuts, changes to income assistance programs, decimation of the mental health system, and gentrification have coalesced to create the homeless crisis. It is going to take a true commitment from the state and federal government to fix what they have broken. Elected officials and voters must work to make sure that happens. At the same time the local government must make sure its homeless programs are effective, accountable and responsive. They must also redirect the endless resources that have gone towards criminalizing homeless people to fill in some of the gaping holes in the array of safety net programs we offer homeless people.
We know how to solve homelessness, and it is going to take a true commitment from the state and federal government. Elected officials and voters must work to make sure that happens. However, here are some steps our local officials can take to immediately address homelessness using local resources.
POINT ONE: FILL ALL VACANT GOVERNMENT OWNED UNITS
Hire homeless people to transform all government owned vacant buildings into housing for homeless people. The San Francisco Housing Authority has over 500 vacant public housing units, alone. Other government bodies with vacant building and land include the City of San Francisco, Cal- Trans, San Francisco Port Authority, San Francisco Unified School District and the Federal Government.
POINT TWO: SCATTERED SITE HOUSING MODEL
Expand the successful “Scattered Site,” model of Shelter Plus Care Master-leasing currently administered by Catholic Charities.
POINT THREE: MASTER LEASE OVERSITE
Continue the City’s Master Lease program, but with an community oversight body to work with providers to prevent displacement, ensure open access to homeless people and expand the amount of neighborhood based and culturally competent providers.
POINT FOUR: WAGES PROGRAM
WAGES would open the door for workfare workers to gain the experience necessary to land public sector employment. Rather than performing tasks for a welfare grant, WAGES would put workfare and CalWORKs workers on a path to self-sufficiency by moving them into civil service.
POINT FIVE: 24 HOUR PSYCHIATRIC CRISIS CENTER
Open a voluntary psychiatric crisis drop-in center to serve people with mental illnesses after hours.
POINT SIX: METHADONE MAINTENANCE
Methadone is a proven effective medical treatment; this proposal is to add 100 slots for uninsured homeless individuals.
POINT SEVEN: MEDI-CAL/SSI ADVOCACY
MediCal/SSI advocacy for 150 individuals at mental health clinics.
POINT EIGHT: HOMELESS PREVENTION EFFORT
Assisting individuals with back rent is an effective tool to maintain people in their rent control apartments, and thus preventing homelessness. This is a cost effective and humane intervention.
POINT NINE: CITY-WIDE HOMELESS COORDINATION AND STRATEGIC PLANNING
Restructure the Mayor’s Office on Homelessness and the Local Homeless Coordinating Board. In its place, create an independent office with at least one full time staff person. This office’s responsibility would be to provide staffing for the Local Board. The staff person would assist the Local Board with the implementation of the Continuum of Care plan.
POINT TEN: SHELTER MONITORING COMMITTEE
Develop a system-wide monitoring committee to make unannounced visits to shelters and drop-in centers. This Committee would be made up of 21 members composed in equal numbers of consumers, line staff, other service-providing staff, and advocates.
These immediate steps could be paid for by stopping the prosecution of homeless people for sleeping and camping under 647(j). There are also saving from both Administrative Accountability and MediCal/ SSI advocacy. In addition the People’s Budget Collaborative has identified savings and revenues totaling over $500,000,000, far more then the cost of above items.