During the month of May, families all over the United States celebrated Mother’s Day. This is a time when we honor probably one of the most difficult while rewarding jobs mankind has been faced with—parenting. While we individually celebrate our own mothers, collectively we have been dishonoring mothers facing severe poverty and homelessness. While some mothers received flowers on Mother’s Day—homeless mothers had no place to even put a vase. There are 2,700 members of homeless families in San Francisco. Families are stuck in the shelter system, doubling up with family members, or squashed into tiny single-room occupancy hotel rooms. Meanwhile, children are suffering the consequences of our society’s negligence with higher rates of serious and chronic health problems, developmental delays, mental health problems, academic failures, behavioral problems and hunger and poor nutrition.
On May 10, the Coalition on Homelessness held a press conference where homeless families and their supporters demanded that City Hall end the suffering of homeless mothers and provide safe, affordable housing now. The press conference was covered by KQED, KTVU, KPFA and other local media outlets. Speaking at the press conference were homeless families themselves, John Avalos from Supervisor Chris Daly’s office, Coalition and other community organization representatives. The message was loud and clear—If you truly honor mothers provide housing immediately!
About one year ago, the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco responded to the homeless family crisis by embarking on a campaign to end homelessness among families with children in San Francisco. We are calling this campaign “¡Housing First! for Homeless Families.”
The Coalition started our campaign by interviewing families with children in shelters and Single Room Occupancy hotel rooms. We asked them directly what they needed to exit homelessness, and we asked about their positive and negative experiences with the shelter system. We then took those responses and our core homeless family leaders collectivized the responses and came up with 15 recommendations. We then brought those recommendations back to homeless families who gave us feedback and prioritized the recommendations. Homeless families in San Francisco decided on their top three recommendations to address the homeless crisis.
- 25% of the Mayor’s 3,000 units of housing for homeless people should be set aside for homeless families.
- 300 locally funded housing subsidies for homeless families at $500 per family per month.
- Triple the amount of funding for homeless prevention and broaden criteria.
This administration’s homeless housing pipeline for the next ten years includes family units for only 7% of the 3,000 units planned.
When we started this campaign a year ago we had high hopes that it would go somewhere—that the city would listen to our pleas. Well they did. They did because homeless families forced them to respond. While we haven’t ended homelessness among families in San Francisco yet—with your help we are heading that direction.
Before this campaign, homeless and families were never even mentioned in the same sentence by our political leaders. Now every time they send out a press release, or talk about homelessness, the Mayor says something about families.
The city convened an Advisory Board to redesign the homeless family system into a Housing First model. Our recommendations are forcefully included in the draft recommendations from that group.
When the Mayor and the Human Service Agency tried to pull a political stunt by claiming there are only 200 homeless families in San Francisco, we stopped them.
When the Human Service Agency tried to exclude families who are defined as homeless under our official city homeless definition, we took over their meeting and forced them to include all of us. Families living in Single Room Occupancy Hotels. Families living doubled up. Families living in the streets and in shelters.
Most importantly, thanks to Supervisor Chris Daly’s tireless work, homeless families have secured $1,000,000 for a brand new program—shallow housing subsidies for homeless families.
We have accomplished a lot, but we clearly are not done! We have to keep the pressure on and turn these recommendations from paper to reality. We still have homeless families in shelters. We still have homeless families in hotels. We still have homeless families living in vehicles. We still have homeless families doubled and tripled and quadrupled up with other families. We will stay here fighting for families until every man women and child has a place to decent safe and affordable place to live!