Provide Immediate Aid to Those in Need: Declare a State of Emergency for the San Francisco Homeless Crisis
(And this time, DO something.)
I first fell in love with San Francisco as a teenager more than twenty years ago. I have spent most of my adult life here. San Francisco is a beautiful, irreverent city, but for decades, we residents and the government we have elected have turned a blind eye to the homeless epidemic. Our collective indifference has allowed it to grow and get steadily worse until it has reached epic proportions. Even to walk with my 3-year-old son to our local playground (or any park within walking distance of our home) we pass an encampment or someone intoxicated beyond the point of coherence. My son witnesses this poverty so often he considers it to be completely normal. He also sees how we respond to the homeless epidemic.
Within the past few months Mayor Ed Lee has created the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. From what I can gather, they have started a strategy that appears to be similar to what has worked to reduce chronic homelessness in places like Utah by providing immediate, permanent housing to get people off the streets.
However, this is a slow process. It took Utah 10 years to reduce chronic homelessness by 91 percent, yet the general homeless population remains at around 14,000 statewide.
For all its success, it has to be noted that San Francisco is not like Utah. Our homeless epidemic is both concentrated and is at a scale comparable only to cities ten times our size like New York or Los Angeles. I personally have been to New York and Los Angeles within the past few months, and in neither city did I witness the desperation I see on a daily basis on my own street. San Francisco needs to solve this problem with a sense of great urgency. As of yet, the new Department of Homelessness has not been visible to residents in affected areas. We simply do not see their presence, while we do see SFPD, SFFD, DPW acting as a sort of short term band-aid.
If an earthquake hit that left 7,000 people without homes, we would declare a state of emergency. We would set up emergency shelters with food, access to resources, to direct to temporary housing until permanent housing could be found.
In April of this year the Board of Supervisors declared a “State of Emergency.” Nothing happened. We have had enough half-measures. We need to enact immediate change.
Homelessness in our city is a public health crisis. We need to take responsibility for our gross negligence and solve this problem today.
Not tomorrow. Not four months from now. Not in four years.
There needs to be an interim solution that provides our homeless population with a path to permanent housing while the City develops infrastructure to make sure no one needs to sleep on the streets again.
On Monday, October 17th, I and other concerned residents are staging a protest, “Tent-In” and request the following actions from the City of San Francisco:
- Allocate emergency funds to get every person living on the streets into an emergency shelter. This emergency shelter must have, or be in the process of developing, access to appropriate pathways to temporary and permanent housing.
- In tandem with getting people into temporary housing, it is imperative to develop a system of accountability and transparency of who receives government funds and the efficacy of their efforts. There is currently a $241M budget allocated to homeless programs in the City, yet the problem has continued to worsen over the last few years. This should be readily available and easy to find for anyone who wants it.
- There also needs to be a system put into place to document who is using services and resources devoted to rehousing and rehabilitation. This way, we can track what is working and what needs to change. Also to make sure residents of our city can easily access these services to prevent them from becoming homeless and so that transients can be helped and redirected to appropriate channels of aid.
The citizens of San Francisco have both brain power and financial resources to find creative solutions to make this happen. We must not forget or postpone the most urgent issue at hand: that as long as there are people among us living in desperate conditions, we are all at risk of experiencing the consequences of desperate behavior.