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I Thought We Told You: We Won't Stop!

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In June 2005, the Housing First for Families campaign fought for a rental subsidy program. This program was designed to help families who were homeless and living in shelters, or in SROs (single-room occupancy hotels), or doubled-up conditions to receive a $500 rental subsidy: The families would be able to find an apartment and the City and Human Services Agency would pay up to $500 rent for the apartment.

The Coalition on Homelessness along with the SRO Families United Collaborative presented the Housing First campaign. After days, weeks, months, and years of hard work and consistency, the families did not stop until the campaign had reached its goals.

I thought we told you that we wouldn’t stop until the recommendations were signed and agreed upon by the City. The recommendation consisted of three main points:

  • A locally-funded housing subsidy for homeless families at $500 per family per month.
  • Enough safe affordable housing for all homeless families in San Francisco.
  • A substantial increase in funding for eviction prevention.

In 2006, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Newsom both agreed to support the subsidy. However, Mayor Newsom has refused to meet with the families who participate in our campaign or respond to our other demands (I thought we told you that we wouldn’t stop!), so the families first kept on fighting, demanding that the demands be responded to.

The first problem arose when the Human Services Agency (HSA) took it into its own hands to distribute the subsidy unevenly. Even though the Family First campaign’s legislation directed the 300 subsidies to 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 families.

We also demanded that there not be a fixed amount of time for which the families would receive the subsidy. However, the Human Services Agency in its inhumane way decided to impose a harsh time limit of one year with a possible extension to a single additional year. We told you that we wouldn’t stop until the families were treated right, and there is nothing right about a time limit! A time limit means homelessness again in a matter of one to two years, and were not having that!

After a long, hard fight, and the campaign’s finally getting approved, the Human Services Agency began to distribute the money for the 300 subsidies to two other agencies so that those agencies could administer the subsidies. The agency that was responsible for administering money to families in shelters and doubled-up families was Compass. The agency that was responsible for providing services to the families in SRO hotels was Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC). In the first months of 2007, these two agencies worked with the families to decide who would qualify for the subsidy.

After closely watching these agencies, we were very disappointed to find that the application process was not fair! There was injustice! Families were being disqualified before they could even fill out the application. After meeting with the families and strategizing we decided to re-form a subsidy monitoring committee.

I thought we told you that we wouldn’t stop! The monitoring committee was made up of Chinatown Community Development Center, the Chinese Progressive Association, the Coalition on Homelessness, South of Market Community Action Network, and St. Peter’s Housing Committee.

In August and September 2007, the monitoring committee conducted a survey of 77 SRO families living in four neighborhoods: the Tenderloin, the Mission, SoMa, and Chinatown. Of the 77 families that were surveyed, only 16 had been accepted and placed into new housing. 24 families had been accepted into the program but had not found housing. 19 families either withdrew their applications or were approved but decided not to participate in the subsidy program primarily because of their concern about what would happen once their time was up for the subsidy. 11 families were denied. Seven families were still waiting or had never heard back from THC. We also found that not one family had been placed from the Mission or SoMa. The end result let us know that the current system was not working at all.

The main issue that we were facing with the subsidy was the time restraints. The time restraints meant that a family must raise their income by $6,000 within one to two years, meaning that a family would have to receive a raise of $500 a month. Now we are talking about homeless families and not government officials.

So from all of this madness a resolution was formed to remove the arbitrary time limit. Fortunately for us, Chris Daly not only supported but sponsored this resolution. He presented the resolution to the Board of Supervisors in May of 2008. Six supervisors supported the resolution. For this we were grateful because that meant the resolution had passed and was ready to be turned into legislation. I thought we told you that we wouldn’t stop!

However, we need at least eight supervisors to make the legislation veto-proof. The workgroup and the families that were and were not receiving the subsidy all took part in many rallies and a lot of lobbying of the supervisors for their support of the legislation.

On July 21, 2008, the legislation went to the Land Use Committee. This would determine whether the legislation would get presented to the full Board of Supervisors. Before this meeting, the families, volunteers, and staff got riled up at a rally concerning the rental subsidy. By the time everyone got inside to speak their peace to the Land Use Committee, they were all fired up and full of power. From the strong passionate comments made, I am glad to present that the legislation was passed! I thought we told you that we wouldn’t stop!

On July 29, the legislation went before the full Board of Supervisors. It was cut down by a narrow 6-5 vote. But this is not the end, San Francisco: I thought we told you regardless of the decision… we won’t stop!

To get involved in this work to support family housing, come join one of our campaign meetings, held every Tuesday at 1 p.m. at 468 Turk Street.


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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