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San Francisco is facing a significant increase in funds and resources to combat homelessness in the city. Local authorities hope the effort will mark a turning point in a longstanding crisis.
“We want to make sure we get people off the street to a safe, affordable place where they can call home. And we’re in a good place for that, ”San Francisco Mayor London Breed told the Guardian.
In a city of vastly differentiated wealth, where new tech millionaires often avoid homeless camps on their way to terrace brunches, homelessness is one of the most persistent and politically tense issues, where housed voices often overtake unhidden voices in terms of quality of life Complaints instead of actual solutions.
Both city and housing advocates agree that the new funding and resources provide an opportunity for change, but proponents warn that this will only happen if authorities work with the population they are trying to reach.
Homelessness in San Francisco exploded during the pandemic. In the first months of the Covid-19 crisis, more tents appeared than ever and more people died on the streets than in previous years.
San Francisco responded to the emergency by trying to accommodate more homeless people. In a city with more than 8,000 homeless people last 1,730 people Currently temporarily housed in hotel rooms and up to 260 people live in sanctioned camps. 204 additional people moved from the hotel program to other accommodation options.
The city wants to build on these efforts. Breed has devised a homelessness restoration plan that focuses on expanding housing options for the homeless. The plan calls for 6,000 internships and sees the city acquire 1,500 new permanent supportive housing units by the end of 2023. The plan also provides rental vouchers for people who have recently been homeless and who spend 30% of their total income on rent to find housing across the city and the Bay Area.
A man instructs homeless people to donate food outside the Glide Memorial Methodist Church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco on March 20, 2020. Photo: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
In the meantime, several sources of funding are provided. Funds for homeless services generated by a 2018 measure that finally taxed wealthy businesses after lengthy litigation. The hotel room program, which temporarily housed more than 2,200 people during the pandemic, is fully reimbursed by the federal government, and the state of California has provided funding to make some of these accommodations permanent.
However, while San Francisco is stepping up its supportive housing efforts, it is adopting a more aggressive stance towards homeless camps.
“When we offer you an alternative to sleeping on the street, we’re not letting you sleep comfortably on the street,” said Breed. “We’re not going to let you pitch a tent and set up a shop if we give you a way out.”
The mayor pointed out the industrial areas under the freeway and the underpasses in San Francisco, where there were once many warehouses but which have recently been cleared. “Things are changing,” she said. “We have reduced tents to times before Covid. We don’t have large warehouses. “
For many homeless people, however, the transition from camp to supportive shelter is not always as straightforward or straightforward. An investigation by the San Francisco Public Press found that nearly one in ten of the city’s existing supporting housing units was vacant. Abigail Stewart-Kahn, the former interim director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, blamed individuals for their unaccepted placements.
Breed told the Guardian that 15% of the people city workers encounter Warehouses have hotel rooms, a number of housing advocates have denied.
But Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said there are many reasons a person would be refused placement. It may not be wheelchair accessible. It can separate that person from a loved one. It may not allow a pet that became like that person’s family to take to the streets. “If system officials say people are service-resistant, it should be understood as a system failure,” she said. “The system is incapable of serving a person appropriately.”
Linda Smith, 35, was given a hotel room at the end of November, grateful that she had a place to shower and a bed to sleep in. But the hotel has a 10 p.m. curfew that she has to miss again and again if she wants to earn enough money for DoorDash deliveries. “I started working for DoorDash to earn an income that would follow the steps to get permanent housing,” said Smith. “I tried to talk to my facility manager about it and he said, ‘No, if you don’t get back by 10am, you can’t get back in until 7am. ‘So what can I do but pitch a tent? “
The hotel rules prevented them from receiving visitors, she said. She missed her friends in her camp and her boyfriend who couldn’t get a room. “I’m very grateful to have a roof over my head and somewhere to rest when I need to, but it’s not an encouraging environment,” said Smith. “They make it difficult to lead a normal life. Do you want me to have a job? Or do you want me to sit in my room all day and do nothing? “
Smith frequently returned to the camp she had previously lived in to check on her boyfriend, Jay.
Tents set up on a sidewalk in San Francisco on November 21, 2020. Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP
Jay died of an overdose in his tent in January. In the days before, he was depressed and distant, Smith said. “He just felt like I was leaving him,” she said.
Confused, Smith spent the next few days crying uncontrollably in her tent. “I wasn’t even able to really keep track of the time,” she said. “I was just in denial. It didn’t even turn out that I had lost my partner. I just felt that if I always believed that it wasn’t true, it wouldn’t be true. “
Smith was still in the tent when a public work team arrived days later to clear the camp. “I hadn’t even looked through his things. I hadn’t gone through my tent. I was just in disbelief, ”said Smith.
With the help of other campers, Smith put Jay’s belongings on a trolley and rolled the trolley away when the man in charge stopped them. “He’s like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, where are you going with this?’” Smith said. “I said, ‘I’m trying to get my things away so you can clean.’ And he said you don’t take that stuff away. It all goes in the trash. “
The crew ripped open their pockets, she said, and threw everything in piles. “The whole time I cry hysterically and beg him, ‘Please don’t do this, you don’t understand, I didn’t even get a chance to go through his stuff,” Smith recalled. “And they just started throwing my things in the trash compactor.”
Smith continued, “One man even had the nerve to yell, ‘Lady, you have to stay away from the dope’ about why I cried hysterically. No, I didn’t cry hysterically because I was doing a lot of drugs. I cried hysterically because you treated me like I was nothing and you act like you were enjoying it. “
When asked about bad behavior during the searches and how such bad behavior could lead to distrust of the city and city services, Breed spoke highly of public work teams that had close ties with the homeless, arguing that some unhodged people were the mistreat public work teams.
“If someone says, ‘Oh, I don’t trust the city’ while we are offering help, there is nothing we can do about it.”
We have the option to really move the dial for homelessness. Jennifer Friedenbach
She also insisted that the camp residents displaced by sweeping be offered housing.
This was not the experience of every homeless person affected by the sweeping. Brian Martin, 42, said he was never offered shelter when he woke up when a crew struck a knife through the tarpaulin of his structure in March. Police officers handcuffed Martin and his tentmate while the crew took their belongings, he said, including an orthopedic leg support he needed after six back surgeries and a stick. When he told them he needed his braces, “They told me to shut up,” he said.
With the help of housing lawyers, Martin was able to secure a temporary protective bed. But he still can’t walk. “I’m limping around,” he said.
Breed said she couldn’t celebrate while people were still sleeping on the streets. “When I see someone sleeping on the street, whether I am mayor or not, I am human. I feel really terrible that this person cannot go into a room and sleep on a bed. My goal is to make this possible. “
Friedenbach of the Coalition for Homelessness said she hoped the city could use this moment for change. “We have an opportunity to really change the homelessness wheel, but it will take political leadership to really get involved,” she said. “It will be necessary to develop relationships with people on the street to keep an eye on them. When apartments open, you can move them in. It will take hard work driven by love and empathy. That has to get through at all levels. “