Martha Ryan, Homeless Prenatal Program Founder & Executive Director on the case for Yes on S

Last week, I was presented with two cases at work. The first case was a 21 year-old mother who was raised in foster care who was homeless and living in her car with her 3 week-old baby. The other case was a pregnant woman who had lost her housing. She is expected to deliver her baby in one month. She has a 3 year-old boy who is now homeless. Who is responsible for these families?

This fall, San Francisco voters find Proposition S (allocation of the Hotel Tax Fund) on the ballot. Mayor George Christopher created the Hotel Tax Fund in 1961 to support the arts, and in 1974 a portion of this fund was designated to support affordable housing. Over the years, this allocation has been modified and whittled away, and recently, all Hotel Tax funding was directed to our City’s General Fund. Proposition S seeks to reinstate its dual-funding purpose — at no cost to the voters.

In the 60s and 70s — when the Hotel Tax Fund was created — the term “family homelessness” was not yet a part of our vocabulary. However, by the mid-80s, families were becoming the fastest growing subset of the homeless population. Today, families make up one-third of the homeless population.

Much has been made of the tent encampments across our City. However, little has been said about family homelessness. In part, this is because it is a less visible problem; to be seen can trigger child-protective services, which can lead to further family instability. Families-in-need try not to be seen: they live in cars, single-room occupancies and in bedrooms filled with many other people. However, family homelessness is a dire problem in our City, and it has been worsening for over 30 years. Today, 1 in 25 school children in the San Francisco Unified School District is homeless.

Babies are born into poverty and homelessness. The children who come into the world without a home have fewer opportunities than children born into families with greater means. Maybe it is time to show empathy and go upstream and invest in families with young children. Homeless children confront serious threats to well-being. Of particular concern are health problems, hunger and poor nutrition, developmental delays, psychiatric problems from the exposure to violence and educational underachievement.

Leaders from the arts and homeless services communities at the Arts+Families Town Hall.

Homeless family service providers — frustrated by the rising number of children living in precarious situations — came together to place an initiative on the ballot. However, we realized we could not do it alone. We approached the arts community and asked them if they would include us in their initiative. There was synergy: over the years, funding from the Hotel Tax Fund intended for artists had also been shaved. Artists from diverse neighborhoods and cultural centers were displaced — many had families. Without affordable housing, neighborhood artists fled San Francisco.

Proposition S will make our City culturally vibrant again. It will protect the arts ecosystem that makes San Francisco both a world-class travel destination and great place to raise children. We are asking you to please join us in ensuring all our families in the City of St. Francis have an equal start in life.

Please vote Yes on S.