After intensive city-wide organizing campaigns, the Board of Supervisors passed what many have dubbed “a true people’s budget,” whereby over $28 million will be directed to poor people and their organizations. Veteran budget navigator Supervisor Chris Daly chaired the Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors and ushered the other members of the committee through the maze. The other hard-working Committee members included Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Ross Mirkarimi, Bevan Dufty, and Sean Elsbernd. The committee spent weeks pruning the City budget of patronage, redundancy, and just plain unessential expenditures.
They came up with savings that added up to over $32 million. As readers of the July edition of the Street Sheet may remember, this year’s budget was more flush than previous years’: The economy is slowly picking up, the tourism industry is back to pre-2001 levels, and real estate keeps trading hands, producing income through the real estate transfer tax. This year was a welcome relief compared to past years, when $100 million shortfalls were born by the city’s poorest people and the non-profits serving them. Healthcare for medically indigent people was slashed during these times. Our social safety net eroded rapidly.
The budget proposed by the Mayor this year, while more flush, came up short in addressing comprehensive community needs surrounding violence prevention, housing, homelessness, youth services and programs, AIDS, healthcare, and economic development. Here in San Francisco, we have a very affluent dominating culture, but in the shadows, ignored by the powerful, there is shocking destitution. Visitors from other Western countries are often shocked by the living conditions of poor people here—what they do without, the condition or lack of housing, the overcrowding, the violence, the segregated educational opportunities, and, of course, the dismal healthcare system. Historically, San Francisco has looked to poor communities to pay deficits in times of budget shortfalls, but during times of abundance has rarely attempted to make up for decades of social erosion created by the City’s budget decisions. This Board of Supervisors, through its Finance Committee, took a serious look at these disparities and attempted to correct social injustices.
The outcome, from a poor community perspective, was really pretty amazing:
Much of the money cut from Ryan White Care Act funds that impact HIV/AIDS services was restored. $1.3 million were added to a proposed $700,000 for eviction prevention. This was the result of a long campaign fought by homeless families working with the Coalition on Homelessness. Funding for the St. Boniface Shelter was restored, as was funding for the 30 beds at Dolores Street Shelter. These shelters are incredibly important to homeless people, and popular as well. In outreach to homeless people, the Coalition has found that these shelters treat people with respect and dignity; their loss would have been devastating to the individuals who depended on them. Immigrants who use Dolores Street will also be blessed with a shared housing opportunity through the funding of the Posada to Casa project. In addition, some important substance abuse funding was restored to ensure needle exchange for youth, and overdose prevention training.
There were many more victories for impoverished communities in the budget, too lengthy to go into. However, for homeless people, these are some of the important highlights.
While we have not yet eliminated poverty and homelessness in San Francisco, we are certainly one step closer to justice for homeless people, thanks to all the individuals who worked hard to make this happen, and the Supervisors’ responsiveness.