Mayor Newsom painted quite a rosy picture of San Francisco’s budget this year. What one might notice listening to the media and reading the press release is what’s not in the budget. What may sound appealing to those of us who have the privilege to get upset over a pothole, is an outrage for those who are struggling to make rent.
Newsom is beautifying the city: He is spending money on fixing all those potholes. Meanwhile, 2,600 San Franciscans are members of families with no home. Families are moving from shelter to shelter, their children growing up without a place to call home. They are suffering the consequences of this neglect, falling behind in school, and being traumatized by uncertainty.
The Mayor’s budget has no significant new funding to address the housing crisis among homeless families.
We have a homicide rate that is escalating. Whole communities are torn apart and suffering from the consequences. Our children are witnessing this violence and it is affecting them for a lifetime. Our families are losing their loved ones.
We have an unaccountable police department that has 32 full time officers who do nothing but harass homeless people, ironically calling it “Operation Outreach.” Meanwhile, killer cops are fatally shooting innocent people crouching in fear from this brutality in attics. Communities have come together in force, only to be defeated in the Spring election by a city and Mayor who have turned their backs on the voices of poor communities. But instead, Mayor Newsom includes funding to add 250 new officers to the street.
In our analysis, the Mayor’s budget doesn’t go nearly far enough in meeting the critical needs of many poor communities. His budget includes the badly needed respite center for homeless people suffering from alcohol addiction, and seriously invests in childcare for homeless families. Both of these are welcome and applauded by our organization. But it ends here and goes no further. He doesn’t make up for the decades of cuts poor people have faced—many of which came into place just last year. Our mental health system has deteriorated. Communities are struggling with violence. Our public health system is in shambles. Families are leaving San Francisco in droves, unable to afford housing. By not addressing these issues, the Mayor is in fact making major cuts.
There are immediate steps the Board of Supervisors can take to alleviate this crisis. The Coalition on Homelessness has three proposals we are trying to get funded through the Board of Supervisors.
For one, we need a local housing subsidy. Families cannot afford the rents in San Francisco, and homeless families are stuck in the shelter system. We need an additional $1,300,000 on top of the $1,000,000 already received in the 2006 surplus. This would fund 150 additional permanent shallow rent subsidies for homeless families. The subsidy would be $500 per family per month. The subsidy would be need based, so that families could transition off the subsidy as their income increases.
We also need $1,934,124 for a comprehensive effort to prevent evictions in San Francisco. Keeping families from ever becoming homeless in the first place is the best strategy in the long run to end family homelessness. Current funds run far short of meeting the need, and have strict criteria attached to them. In theory, this new funding would be more flexible, and would directly link the homeless shelter system with Catholic Charities, the primary agency that manages prevention funds. Eligibility guidelines should also change, so that families could access the funds more than once a lifetime, allow for flexibility for undocumented individuals, and other barriers to accessing these funds would be eliminated. Funding would be used to increase back rent funds by at least 75%, tenant rights education, the establishment of standards and practices for city funded affordable housing providers, public pre-eviction, and eviction legal assistance.
Lastly, the Board needs to fund a 24 hour, consumer friendly drop-in to serve people in psychiatric crisis. Services would be accessible both in person at the center and by telephone. Peer and medical crisis intervention would be provided to individuals with a mental health crisis. Currently, there are no after hours psychiatric services in San Francisco, with the exception of Psychiatric Emergency Services at San Francisco General Hospital. Individuals who experience psychiatric crisis after hours are dealt with by the police. When necessary, they are taken to a locked facility at the hospital. In fact, one in four police calls are responses to individuals in psychiatric crisis, or individuals “acting with bizarre behavior,” with the overwhelming majority occurring after hours. This is counter-therapeutic, and often leads to permanent distrust of psychiatric services on the part of the consumer.
Hopefully the Board of Supervisors has by the time of this printing, risen to the challenge. The budget in San Francisco must reflect the needs of those in the most desperate of circumstances. We will continue fighting to make that a reality.