Thursday, May 10, 2018

Demagoguing the homeless issue

From Monday's SF Chronicle:

Unless they[candidates for mayor] can come up with some way to put the more than 2,000 chronically homeless people...— longtime street people with a range of dysfunctions, from addiction to mental illness — under roofs they actually want over them, San Francisco’s crippling street problem will persist. And that doesn’t count the other 5,000-plus revolving door of homeless people found on the streets on any given night.

The four main candidates — Supervisors London Breed and Jane Kim, former state Sen. Mark Leno and ex-Supervisor Angela Alioto — all say they have a way to house those people. And quickly (Mayoral candidates face hurdle of housing homeless who resist moving inside).

All the candidates are talking big about doing something about homelessness, but Mark Leno may be the worst on the issue with his promise "to end street homelessness by 2020." Gee, I wonder why our previous mayors didn't think of that?

The answer: because they knew it wasn't possible.

Leno reminds me of Willie Brown, who, after spending his career in Sacramento, returned to San Francisco. After being elected mayor, he was quickly flummoxed by the growing homeless problem that apparently surprised him. 

Leno at times seems as if he’s running for mayor of the city he departed 15 years ago, not the city he returned to. Insiders trade stories about an early campaign event during which he spent what felt like 20 or 30 minutes detailing the minutiae of a statewide fight to eliminate certain kinds of toxic flame retardants from couches and other kinds of furniture. Important? Yes. Among the voters’ top issues this year? Not so much.

Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee understood that ending homelessness in SF might have been possible if San Francisco was the only city in the country that had a homeless problem. But every city in the country is struggling with homelessness with varying degrees of success.

In this morning's Chronicle:

Jeff Kositsky, the homelessness department’s director, said the city can help 40 to 50 people a week get off the streets. “But based on our data, every week there are 100 to 150 newly homeless people on the street,” he said. “That’s why the prevention and diversion pieces are so incredibly important.”

Spending more money on the problem is necessary, but it will never be enough without massive help from the state and the federal government to deal with what's clearly a national problem.

In the meantime, the city must continue to implement compassionate, realistic policies to deal with it.

Good to see Mayor Farrell is asking for more money for my favorite homeless program, Homeward Bound:

Spend $1.2 million to double the budget for the Homeward Bound program, which gives homeless people a bus ticket out of town if there’s someone at the end of the line to give them a place to live. About 800 people now use the program annually.

That's our most cost-effective homeless program, since the average bus ticket is around $150. San Francisco is a prosperous city, but even it can't afford to provide housing and services to everyone who turns up homeless on our streets.

Randy Shaw questions Mark Leno's promise to house thousands of the homeless:

Here’s how Leno’s Friday email announcing his homeless plan began: “As Mayor, I will immediately move at least 1,000 people off the streets and into vacant Single Room Occupancy units identified by the City’s Department of Building Inspection.”

When Leno refers to “vacant Single Room Occupancy units identified by the City’s Department of Building Inspection,” he’s referring to the Annual Unit Usage report that city law requires SRO owners to submit...

My prior article explained why these DBI vacancy figures say nothing about potential SRO vacancies for homeless persons. It’s like seeing vacant tables in a restaurant and identifying that as a solution to hunger. An SRO vacancy on a particular day does not mean it would ever be available to house a homeless person.

As I told Leno and wrote about in my story, my organization is in the business of finding SRO rooms for homeless persons. Rising rents has made it harder than ever. Vacant rooms on DBI reports say nothing about an SRO owners’ willingness to rent rooms to people off the street; yet Leno’s plan is premised on misinterpreting this vacancy data.

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