On April 13th, dozens of families, the Families First Coalition, and community allies gathered in front of the office of the Coalition on Homeless to demand one thing: inclusion in the City’s homelessness plan and to declare a state of emergency for families in San Francisco.
Speaker after speaker gave testimony to the severe housing crisis that is detrimentally affecting families in this City and forcing them to leave or live in substandard conditions. It was no coincidence that Mayor Gavin Newsom was giving his own state of address on homelessness at the annual Project Homeless Connect conference that same day. The rally was a reminder that while the City has repeatedly informed of us of its successes in housing the homeless, it has not yet been able to truly address the needs of homeless families.
The demands of the Families First Coalition were simple: that the City use appropriate definitions of “homeless families” so families in need aren’t excluded from the housing process; 25% of all new affordable housing be built for families; and more rental subsidies for families and eviction defense prevention money.
San Francisco has enough homeless families to fill a small town (over 1,000). Families are living without dignity in cramped and unsafe Single Room Occupancy Hotel Rooms. They are doubled and tripled up in tiny apartments across the City. Some buildings are in substandard conditions, infested with rats and bedbugs, gaping holes in the wall, or lacking adequate heat, but families are so afraid of becoming displaced and thrown into a desperate hunt for affordable housing, this is the price they pay to stay housed. At the rally, families form the Tenderloin, Mission, and Chinatown, all gave testimony for the desire to live in dignity.
According to a First Five report, at least 400 adults and their children doubling up in San Francisco. (This is an extremely conservative estimate.) In addition, according to the Department of Public Health, 1560 family members, including 760 children (40% of whom are 5 years old or younger), reside in SRO hotels.
However, advocates have struggled just to ensure that all families are included in the City’s current Homeless redesign plan. At the family redesign meeting of March 15, Dariush Kayhan of the Dept. of Human Services, indicated that only those families residing in city shelters or transitional housing be included in the process. After much discussion and community pressure, the committee finally agreed to have a more inclusive definition.
It should be noted, as Supervisor Chris Daly indicated at the rally on April 13th, that there have been many wins recently in creating more “low-income” housing for families and for all poor communities of San Francisco. With the City having a surplus this, year, Daly and other progressive Supervisors secured $20 million dollars for “affordable” housing, including $9 for families and $1 million for rental subsidies for families.
Rosario Ramirez, a family organizer from Coleman Advocates, spoke of the excitement of seeing so many families stand up for their rights. The community should feel proud of its recent wins and continue with the momentum to create more change so that more than 7% of the affordable housing budget goes to families. The realities of the thousands of families living in substandard conditions are a reminder that there is still a lot of work to do.
The Families First Coalition is a wide-ranged group of individuals including rpresentatives from the Coalition on Homelessness, SRO Families, Chinatown CCDC, and La Voz Latina of THC. They meet at noon every Thursday at 468 Turk Street. For more information, contact Miguel or Najuwanda at 415.861.7419.