For the past 16 months, the Coalition on Homelessness’ Families and Immigrants workgroup (FAIM) has carried out a Housing First for Families Campaign to secure dependable and affordable housing for homeless families, regardless of immigration status or credit history. This July, FAIM celebrates the achievement of two of its three initial campaign goals as it continues to work with homeless families how to proceed towards the third. FAIM is dedicated to obeying the leadership of homeless families. To this end, FAIM is making significant efforts to engage and encourage homeless families to get involved in whatever ways they can.
Recognizing that families face unique issues and are among the most invisible and underserved homeless groups, FAIM launched the Housing First for Families Campaign in February, 2005. The first major project was to conduct community-based research to find out from homeless families what issues they faced and what they would like the Coalition to do in response. Shelters and Single-Room Occupancy hotels (SROs) whose staff and families participated included St. Joseph’s, 260 GG Hamilton, Hamilton Emergency on Waller St., Compass, OSHUN, Hamilton Transitional, 3 Richmond Hill, RO Hotel, and Treasure Island. Families were involved in the research process in several ways, including contributing to forming the questions that would frame the study, answering the questions, giving feedback on the report, and generating proposals at a community assembly based on the report. Out of this assembly, 15 demands were formed for the campaign, three of which were chosen to begin the campaign.
In August, 2005, FAIM and 10 homeless families with children met with Mayor Gavin Newsom to discuss their experiences and to articulate their vision for change. This meeting marked a brief moment in the political process in which homeless families could speak for themselves and articulate their own plan of action, as opposed to having a far removed “specialist” with minimal direct knowledge of homelessness develop and implement a plan on their behalf. In this meeting, Mayor Newsom verbally promised to look at implementing the first three recommendations put forth by the Housing First for Families Campaign.
In January, 2006, FAIM and the Coalition joined the Homeless Families System Redesign and the following sub-committees formed by department heads appointed by the Mayor: Eviction Prevention/Rental Assistance; Emergency Shelter/Assessment Team; and Transitional/Permanent Housing. Through sustained organizing efforts that included continued participation in the above sub-committees, a series of press conferences, continuing outreach, and homeless family leadership, HFFC succeeded in winning two of its first three demands. These victories included redistributing $2.3 million in the City budget toward rental subsidies for homeless families, as well as $2 million to eviction prevention, for a total of $4 million redistributed towards homeless families. Within the Board of Supervisors, Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi—members of the Budget and Finance Committee—and Jake McGodrick used their fiscal powers to make the $2,000,00 in changes to Mayor Newsom’s original budget. The Mayor’s plan included $1,000,000 for eviction prevention, and the Board of Supervisors included $1,000,000 of the mid-year budget surplus for rental subsidies.
The Struggle Ain’t Over
Continuing COH’s commitment to walk with homeless communities in struggle, FAIM is conducting outreach to homeless families at shelters, SROs, and other service sites, and hosting a series of assemblies to ask families how the campaign should continue. Specifically, FAIM is collaborating with homeless families to hold Mayor Newsom to his word to support the third of the initial three proposals: the designation of 25% of the Mayor’s planned 3,062 homeless housing units to homeless families. This goal reflects the reality that 40% of San Francisco’s homeless people live in families. Currently, Mayor Newsom’s plan allocates only 7% of the planned units to families, a proportion reflective of the lack of services and attention paid to homeless families in San Francisco.
Immediately following the successful completion of the first two demands in June, which focused on rental subsidies and eviction prevention, FAIM began an ongoing series of brainstorming and strategizing sessions conducted through outreach and community assemblies. These sessions have focused on this housing goal. Thus far, these sessions have yielded several concrete plans for the future success of the 25% initiative. One plan is to hold another meeting between homeless families and Mayor Gavin Newsom. At a press conference on July 10, Mayor Newsom agreed to meet with 10 homeless families and the Coalition. This meeting is tentatively planned for August.
The Coalition on Homelessness honors and thanks the people and families who have worked for 16 long months in the struggle to help secure Housing First for Homeless Families. Our successes are due to your involvement. Moreover, the only way we can achieve our further goals is with your continued support, voices, and involvement.
To all homeless families in SROs, shelters, and communities, and those who support their efforts:
Please join us at noon every Thursday at the Coalition on Homelessness office for the Housing First for Families workgroup. We need your help and involvement to discuss, organize, and plan action for Families First Housing.
FAIM is available to assist you with any needs, problems, or issues that you may have regarding housing, employment, benefits, and your rights. Please come see us on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., or call Miguel or Jesus at 415.346.3740.