Morality is a term that’s been co-opted by those in the US whose politics tend to do the greatest harm to the most people. Those of us who are queer, who struggle with addictive substances, who are broke and on the dole—those of us who are not the successful or the pure by this society’s standards—are denied access to moral judgment. We are burdens on society. We are corrupters of youth. We are the fallen. On June 5, religious leaders representing Jews, Friends, Catholics, Buddhists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Muslims, Pentecostals, and Lutherans sent the political leaders of San Francisco a very different message: “One’s moral compass always points toward compassion. These religious leaders are far from alone.
On June 2, Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced a budget that will bring the hurt down upon the poorest San Franciscans. Among the services to be eliminated by this proposal would be Tenderloin Health, which serves 16,000 homeless people with basic respite and quality of life services every year; the Ella Hill Hutch Homeless Shelter, which provides over 100 indoor sleeping spots each night; Caduceus Outreach Services, which reaches mental health consumers who are unable to use the mainstream mental health system; and the SRO Families United Collaborative, which provides services for approximately 500 families living in single-room occupancy hotel rooms in four different city neighborhoods. These are only the housing- and homelessness-related cuts. Homeless people share the burden with queers, with seniors, with children and their families, with people with disabilities, and with the chronically ill. It always sounds hyperbolic when we say that certain measures will result in deaths, but it must be understood that we are talking about the most vulnerable populations in San Francisco. What will it mean for HIV positive people not to have wrap-around services? What will it mean for ill homeless people to lose the largest basic respite provider in the Tenderloin? This budget is brutal, callous, and morally reprehensible.
This evening, June 11, representatives from several different community organizations, as well as members of the community at large, brought this message to Mayor Newsom’s front door… literally. Through street theater and protest art, they sent forward a message which could be summed up in one of the chants: No budget cuts! The city belongs to us! More than one neighbor came out briefly to let us know that they didn’t like having this sort of individual in their neighborhood either. Of course, at the Coalition on Homelessness, we cannot fully stand behind NIMBYism.
While some members of the Board of Supervisors have already openly recognized that these sorts of cuts are irresponsible, if not downright obscene, there is still work to be done to ensure that San Francisco passes a budget which honors our government’s responsibility to all our communities. Next Thursday, the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors will allow public comment on the 2008-2009 budget at 5:00 p.m. in Room 250 of City Hall. We encourage all readers of the Street Sheet to join us in arguing for a municipal budget guided by a true moral compass.