Readers of the STREET SHEET already know about the financial crisis that affected the Coalition in 2004. We made it through a very difficult year thanks to the awesome support we received from the community (that means people like you). We now know that we will remain open and continue to work towards an end to homelessness. We also know that this goal can only be achieved by dealing with the root causes of poverty and homelessness: low wages, expensive housing, lack of health care, etc.
At the same time that we had to face the financial crisis, we were confronted with the need to deal with the changes in the political and social environment around the issue of homelessness. Taking advantage of the crisis, we decided to make deep structural changes to our organization as an attempt to improve our ability to deal with the new realities on the streets.
Many of the changes in homeless policy that are taking place under the Newsom administration reflect a major shift from past administrations. While we still oppose the cuts to benefits and services resulting from measures such as Care Not Cash and the mid-year budget cuts, we certainly welcome the new focus in providing housing first. The new buzzword is “supportive housing” and the Coalition has been advocating for it for at least ten years.
However, while the so-called “chronically homeless” are getting all the attention, a number of other issues are getting swept under the rug. The old saying claiming that what is out of sight is out of the mind can be applied to the current situation. As the mayor and his staff have said many times, the focus is on the “visible” homelessness.
Meanwhile, homeless people are still getting daily scores of citations for “quality of life” crimes such as sleeping outdoors, panhandling or selling stuff without a permit. These civil rights issues are not going to go away just because a few hundred lucky ones get access to a clean room and on site services, which is indeed a great thing for them. The Coalition will still work to make sure that the civil rights of homeless people don’t get lost in the middle of the new rhetoric, because we believe that a free society must be evaluated not only by the liberties granted to its average citizens, but by how it protects the liberties of its poorest, most destitute members.
We will also continue to work to make sure that there are enough services for those who find themselves thrown onto the streets because of a lost job, an out of control housing market or a personal crisis of any sort. Shelters, clinics and resource centers are still necessary and we need to make sure that those who use them are treated with dignity and respect and that they find the help they need to get back on their feet.
As we unite to fight against the war, we must make sure that we support all of its victims, including those who are now fighting it. With thousand of veterans returning from the imperial war in Iraq, we can foresee another spike in the ranks of homeless veterans with a long list of mental and physical illnesses hitting the streets of America. The track record of this country shows that these veterans shouldn’t expect much support from those who sent them into war in the first place.
And last, but not least, we will make sure that the “invisible” ones, the thousands of homeless people whose plights don’t make to the front pages of the Chronicle, will still be visible and very much audible by government officials and service providers. Among these “invisible” homeless, we will keep a strong focus in the issues affecting families and immigrants, two of the largest of the hidden homeless populations.
To deal with the issues outlined above, we are creating a new structure within the COH. In the process of reorganizing the Coalition we had to make clear that we would keep a few things intact: our core values, our organizing method based on outreach and work groups, and this newspaper.
In the process we had to dissolve the six issue-based projects that were the core of our organizing and advocacy work. Thus, the Civil Rights Project, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) work group, the Family Rights and Dignity project, Hogares Sin Barreras / Housing Not Borders, Shelter Outreach (SHOUT) and Right to a Roof will cease to exist as of this month.
To replace those projects we will have a core group of four organizers who will staff four work groups addressing specific issues: Health Care and Economic Justice, Housing and Shelter, Families and Immigrants, and Civil Rights and Youth. These work groups will still work with certain levels of autonomy, but the intent is that they work in unity, while the organizers provide support to each other on whatever issues the Coalition as whole identifies as priorities.
The main goal of the new structure is to build our internal strength and capacity, and to consolidate our activities as a way of becoming more effective in the struggle for social justice. We hope these changes will make us stronger and we call all our supporters to come and see what the new Coalition on Homelessness looks like.