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A Typical Conversation with the Department of Human Services

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Here at the Coalition on Homelessness we work closely with community members and city agencies. We recently met with the Department of Human Services—they’re the ones who fund and oversee (among other things) the homeless shelters and resource centers here in the City. Our jobs here at the Coalition require the ability to interpret and analyze complex legal and policy directives. Luckily we have a good relationship with DHS and always get prompt assistance from them. Their staff is always extremely polite and accessible. We look forward to each and every meeting with them because of the respect and courtesy they extend to us as well as the valuable information they consistently provide. It is nice to know that there is so much transparency and accountability. They after all are responsible for spending our money to address the homeless problem in San Francisco.

Here is a recent conversation we had with one of the DHS representatives while working on this issue of STREET SHEET:

COH: Thanks for letting me in the building. I have a few questions I would like to ask you. Do you have a few minutes?

DHS: That’s a fine how do you do, but sure, let’s get down to brass tacks. We have to read the tea leaves and stay ahead of the curve. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Why do homeless disabled people who are not on General Assistance have to wait for hours every night at resource centers to get a shelter bed for one night?

DHS: Listen, a lot of them are tough as shoe leather and if the truth be told at the end of the day they are low hanging fruit. It’s a win-win.

Is it true that there are over a hundred empty shelter beds every night and people are sitting in chairs at the McMillan Resource Center (39 Fell) being yelled at by staff if they fall asleep?

DHS: At the end of the day you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Besides, live by the sword, die by the sword.

Is it true that most people who get these one night beds arrive at the shelter so late that they miss meals?

DHS: We have to peel that onion one layer at a time. As you know a stitch in time saves nine, but it will all come out in the wash.

What about the fact that married or domestic partnered couples are not allowed to sleep together or even near each other in the Shelters?

DHS: That’s where the rubber hits the road.

What type of data review process is being used to identify people who are remaining in shelters long term?

DHS: No man is an island but I guess that now the cow is out of the barn. I can say that there is no I in team, and you can take that to the bank.

Care not Cash provides people with $59 a month to live on. How do you realistically expect someone to do that?

DHS: Half a loaf is better than none. We can rise to the occasion… and if life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

Is there any mechanism in place that addresses the fact that people can be repeatedly assigned to a shelter while another person may be referred to an SRO upon their first contact with a GA worker?

DHS: I used to think I had it bad because I had no shoes, then I met a man with no feet.

Is there a limit to amount of time people can cycle through the shelter system before being offered an SRO room? If so what is it?

DHS: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You have to put on your pants one leg at a time and not get the horse before the cart. Home is where the heart is and if you are at peace with yourself you are never alone.

Since the closure of A Man’s Place shelter and South Beach Resource Center as well as the loss of 20 senior beds at A Woman’s place shelter and 20 beds in the Mission through the Mission resource Center, we have lost a total of 290 beds, mats and chairs. What is going to be done to address this?

DHS: I took some lumps on that one. Housing First isn’t just an idea—it’s a working policy. We just need to separate the sheep from the goats. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I understand that DHS is claiming that something like 95% of people placed in SRO rooms are staying there. Is this statistic true?

DHS: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. We just have to get our ducks in order.

I don’t understand what you are trying to say.

DHS: Poor planning on your part does not create an emergency on my part. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

How do you respond to the fact that homeless seniors spend so much of their time waiting in line at resource centers for one night shelter beds that they are unable to make it to their doctors appointments?

DHS: It goes without saying that laughter is the best medicine.

DHS is claiming that there are no people turned away from shelters because they are counting people sitting in chairs all night at resource centers as being placed in a shelter. How can you say that sitting awake in a resource center chair is the same as sleeping in a shelter bed?

DHS: I am not looking at the Status Quo—I am looking at the Big Picture.

What Big Picture are you referring to?

DHS: It’s worth a thousand words! After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. I am as honest as the day is long.

Could you explain some of those words?

DHS: We look at this as an investment. You can trust me. The writing has been on the wall and now it is in the NOFA. Mark my words.

I would like you to read these legal declarations we have collected from people who have reported that they were verbally abused by staff at resource centers and shelters. Please read these important documents, here you are sir.

DHS: Don’t cast pearls before swine. Money can’t buy you love. This has got me shaking like a dog shitting razor blades.

What is DHS doing to track the people who have fallen off the welfare rolls?

DHS: That’s a tough nut to crack. It’s the sixty four thousand dollar question. You shouldn’t buy a pig in a poke or look a gift horse in the mouth.

Why do you think that almost all of the city programs that receive funding from DHS complain that the department treats them in a very authoritarian, disrespectful and dictatorial manner?

DHS: I am not trying to split hairs but that’s just sour grapes. Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg. You have to make hay while the sun shines.

How many non-CAAP clients get one night beds each night at every shelter?

DHS: Now you are showing your true colors, but be for warned there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. I may be the low man on the totem pole but let me just say that a leopard can’t change his spots and you can beat a dead horse but you can’t make him drink.

How many people have exited shelter into housing?

DHS: Lets just say we have turned off the spigot. I mean the porch light is on but there’s nobody home. Nothing is certain but death and taxes. A house divided can not stand.

Listen, I am trying to write an article for STREET SHEET about the fact that there are homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk because they cant afford housing and are unable to access the shelters. Could you tell me how many times the CHANGES computer has broken down in the last month?

DHS: I’m really in a pickle now… but if you put your nose to the grindstone, knuckle down and get with the program you will see that the wheel has come full circle. When the chips are down just keep a stiff upper lip, stick to your guns and you will see that its all just peachy.

Thanks for your time, I have got to go now because I have a lot of work to do. I appreciate your help but I am actually more confused now than I was before we met.

DHS: Old habits die hard. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Um, bye, have a nice day, see ya around at City Hall.

DHS: It’s not over till the fat lady sings, and that’s straight from the horse’s mouth. Remember, I’m looking at the Big Picture, not the Status Quo, and you can quote me on that.



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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