What do you believe to be the appropriate role of local government in approaching homelessness?
Providing social services is a crucial aspect of city government. The police, firefighters, teachers, food banks, shelters, and social workers all deliver services that San Francisco residents depend on. The city government of San Francisco has a chartered responsibility to provide adequate and effective services for those in need. When it comes to providing the homeless the necessary continuum of care the city has by and large failed in its responsibilities. Local government must identify the most pressing issues of the homeless population through building coalitions and by continuing to support organizations that encounter the homeless on a daily basis. This cooperation can only improve the understanding of what is truly needed and produce the best approaches to resolving the issues surrounding homelessness. Many drop-in centers in the city such as Mission Resource Center, Tenderloin Health, and the Homeless Outreach Team send out teams of social workers and case managers to give assistance to those who are living on our streets. These are the organizations that understand that the underlying causes of homeless include lack of living-wage jobs, housing, vocational skills, substance abuse, mental illness and domestic violence. However, the local city government continues to de-fund these drop-in centers. Buster’s Place, San Francisco’s only 24-hour drop-in center, recently closed due to city budget cuts.
The city must view the homeless as fellow residents of San Francisco and not only as a social ill that needs to be eradicated. And with that perspective the local governance will develop creative ways to keep supporting these programs.
As supervisor, what, if anything, would you attempt to do to address homelessness in San Francisco?
If homelessness is continuously viewed as a problem for the city to solve nothing positive will ever be done. Our city’s residents that are living on our streets must be seen as an opportunity to actually help our neighbors in their time of need. The supervisors are responsible to take the issues of the homeless as serious and with as much care as they do with any issue of any other constituent group in San Francisco. As supervisor I will look for ways to provide wrap around services and support for the homeless, including transitive housing. There must be an emphasis placed on increasing the abilities of the existing organizations and service providers, not the current trend of limiting resources given to these organizations. The use of umbrella organizations, such as Project Homeless Connect and the Western Regional Advocacy Project, to track the results of programs and to integrate programs can increase access to services and funding sources.
One major policy affecting the homeless on a daily basis is the criminalization of homeless individuals. The persistent efforts to criminalize the homeless cost the city millions of dollars in police and court time, involving institutions that are not expert at resolving the issues that the homeless face. The arrests and attempts at prosecution net zero results and sap the limited resources of the city. Working with the police will be key to reduce the confiscating of property and criminalizing those that are already suffering from poverty, inequity, and lack of opportunity.
How would you handle San Francisco’s affordable housing shortage?
The fact that there is a lack of affordable housing in the city has been repeated in all circles. For the homeless the options of housing are extremely limited, waitlists for subsidized housing can be two-years or more. If this dire lack of affordable housing within San Francisco is not tackled head on and dealt with in a strategic manner, that puts an emphasis on creating affordable housing in San Francisco, the number of homeless folks will continue to grow.
In order to alleviate some of the housing shortage problem, inclusionary off-site housing dollars, part of any new development, nee to be aimed at rehabilitating existing housing units, creating more affordable housing stock. These funds can also be used to leverage Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars from the California Housing Rehabilitation Program to rehab smaller buildings.
Along with acquiring more CDBG dollars, the city needs to focus on land acquisition to increase its emerging land trust. A land trust can be used to assist some renters and purchasers of affordable housing. My focus is to increase the stock of affordable housing, that is why I fully support the Proposition B which will allow for a city budget set aside for the construction of affordable housing.
What is your opinion of Care Not Cash?
Those that do not work directly with the homeless population may believe that getting more people to sleep under a roof will solve all the issues associated with the homeless. However, housing and homeless advocates view Care Not Cash as a systematic way to reduce the actual amount of money that a person receives and create a monopoly on how an individual can access benefits. In December of 2005 Mayor Gavin Newsom asserted that in five months, due to Care Not Cash program, there should be no homeless people left on the rolls at all. The city’s misguided ideal that putting people in shelters solves all the issues that face the homeless has caused residents to concede their cash grants to take housing even if they did not want it, left those without a social security number or veterans or disability recipients without real care or cash.
Not only are many individuals left out of the Care Not Cash program, it does not focus on sustainable programs that address substance abuse treatment or job training. The city has also failed to address the problem that the beds are reserved for people in the program and cause shelters to turn people away. Care Not Cash is a way for the city government to claim easy victories while ignoring the systemic structures that plague the homeless.