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An Open Letter from the Housing First for Families Campaign

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The Coalition on Homelessness and the SRO Families United Collaborative present this letter to the community to inform all homeless families what has been happening with the Housing First for Families Campaign. (Families living in SRO [single-room occupancy] hotels, families living in shelters and doubled-up are all included in San Francisco’s definition of homelessness.) We want to thank you for your support and participation in this campaign. What we have won so far has been possible because of the support from the families and everyone who has been involved.

The History of the Campaign

In June, 2005 the Coalition on Homelessness released the Housing First for Families report. Its three primary recommendations to address the problem of family homelessness in San Francisco were:

  • a locally-funded housing subsidy for homeless families at $500 per family per month;
  • the allocation of 25% of the 4,500 publicly-funded family units created over the next 10 years be affordable to homeless families (according to Mayor Newsom’s plan, only 6% will be affordable to very low-income families);
  • funding for eviction prevention.

The Campaign garnered broad support from families and service providers, ultimately bringing the reality of homelessness to the forefront of homeless policy when the official line was to center the City’s efforts on the so-called “chronically” homeless, explicitly excluding families. The struggle of the families organized in the campaign initially seemed to pay off, and in 2006, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Newsom both agreed to fund the housing subsidy. However, despite the Mayor Newsom’s pleas to make family homelessness one of his priorities, his adminsitration has since refused to consider the demands of the campaign, particularly the one requiring that 25% of the affordable housing units created in the next 10 years be affordable enough that homeless qualify could actually afford them. To add insult to injury, Mayor Newsom has refused to meet with the families who participate in our campaign or respond to our other demands.

The Rental Subsidy Program

Even though we insisted to the Human Services Agency (HSA) that the 300 subsidies be distributed equally, HSA decided that 75 subsidies would be for families living in SRO hotels, and the other 225 would be for families living in shelters and doubled up. We also demanded that there not be a fixed amount of time that the families would receive the subsidy, but HSA imposed a time limit of one year, which can be extended to two years.

HSA distributed the money for the 300 subsidies to Compass and Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC) to administer the subsidies. Compass administers the subsidies for families in the shelters and doubled-up families. THC administers the subsidies for SRO families. In the first months of 2007, these agencies began to work with the families and decide who would qualify for the subsidy.

After watching the application process closely, we discovered a number of problems: For example, Compass and THC disqualified some families before they could even fill out an application form. After several meetings with the families about the obstacles they were facing, we decided to reconstitute the Monitoring Committee, to better resolve the needs of the families.

The Monitoring Committee is made up of families who participate in the Campaign and representatives of the five organizations that are in the SRO Families United Collaborative: the Coalition on Homelessness, the Chinatown Community Development Corporation, the Chinese Progressive Association, St. Peter’s Housing Committee and the South of Market Community Action Network. This committee has played an important role in the Campaign because it has directly confronted the city’s politicians.

To find out more about the extent of the gap betwen the stated goals of the rental subsidy program and the actual needs of homeless families, we surveyed 77 families living in SRO hotels in four neighborhoods: the Tenderloin, Chinatown, the Mission, and SoMa, who had applied for the rental subsidy. The results of the survey confirmed what we had already heard from the families: Many families were turned down because their incomes were too low and because they couldn’t demonstrate that they would be able to raise their incomes and be able to pay the whole rent on their own once the subsidy was taken away after one or two years. Many families complained about the lack of follow-up from THC. Other families didn’t even want to apply because the subsidy is for such a short time and they were afraid that they would end up on the streets when the subsidy was removed. From the results of the survey, the Monitoring Committee proposed the following demands:

  1. that the arbitrary time limit be removed, and the subsidy be made need-based; this change should include the families who are currently receiving the subsidy, so that these families do not have to confront the possibility of losing their housing;
  2. that the subsidies be increased from $500 to $1,000.

On December 6, 2007, we had a meeting with two representative of HSA, Joyce Crum and Cindy Ward. We presented the families’ concerns and our proposals to improve the program. At the end of January, 2008, HSA responded to us that they did not plan on making any changes to the subsidy program.


Families of all economic backgrounds are leaving San Francisco because of the huge crisis of housing affordability. This crisis has a disproportionate impact on the poorest families. Ethnic and racial minorities are particularly affected by this trend. Thus, the loss of families with young children is compounded by the loss of diversity. San Francisco is on the verge of commiting demographic suicide by transforming itself into a playground for the wealthy, white, and single only.

Brothers and sisters, we would like to invite all families to be part of the Housing First for Families Campaign. Unity is very important because it’s the only way that we are going to challenge the politicians of this city. Fighting together is the only way that we will have the power to combat the problem of homelessness in the city of San Francisco. Without you, this campaign cannot move forward.

The Housing First for Families Campaign meets every Thursday at 12 noon at 468 Turk St. If you would like to know more or would like to participate, please join us or call us at 415.346.3740 x. 319.


Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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