Supervisor's Report

Hope for the homeless crisis and homes for the holidays

During the summer legislative recess, I went on a road trip with my wife through the great American Northwest. It didn’t matter whether we were in the sweeping rural vistas of Shasta County, or urban centers like Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., the consistent observation was: the homeless crisis is a California emergency. We saw tents in places that had never experienced homelessness before, and we saw men and women visibly struggling with mental health and drug addiction alongside shoppers and baby strollers. It was a stark reminder that San Francisco is not alone in our struggle to combat homelessness after decades of state and federal disinvestment in our mental health and affordable housing infrastructures.

But we have always been the City That Knows How — and from neighborhood activists to social workers to city officials, we are continuing the battle for solutions. Here are some updates on new tools the city is using to address the entrenched issues on the ground:

Public safety/crisis intervention. In early October, I brought Chief Bill Scott and his command staff to North Beach to hear directly from families who have experienced an uptick in aggressive and physically threatening behavior on the street. Parents demanded increased foot patrols, especially around parks, which Chief Scott and Captain Yep agreed to. In addition, the mayor has committed to a crisis-intervention team for North Beach, which are public health workers trained in intervening in instances of mental crisis. The community’s direct feedback and advocacy to the mayor and police chief have been incredibly important — thank you.

SB 1045. Senate Bill 1045 was signed into law this year and creates a new five-year conservatorship pilot program for a few key counties, including San Francisco. The goal of the program, which is estimated to help roughly 100 of our most vulnerable residents who are chronically homeless, seriously mentally ill, and suffer from substance abuse, is providing supportive housing with intensive wraparound services. These are residents who routinely end up in emergency rooms, psychiatric facilities, jail, or other police custody and for whom voluntary support services have repeatedly failed to have a positive long-term impact. Obviously, the program will fail if we do not have actual housing facilities to conserve these residents to, so securing funding for affordable and supportive housing will continue to be a top focus for my office.

Proposition C. As of this writing, Proposition C — “Our City, Our Home” — has secured 61.25 percent of the vote in San Francisco. If you were one of those votes: thank you. That means you recognize that out of the $250 million our three-year old Department of Homelessness spent last year, two-thirds of the budget went to rental subsidies, eviction prevention and permanent supportive housing to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place — or to house the formerly homeless. Only 17.6 percent (or $57 million) was spent on street team outreach, temporary shelters, and health services for the visible homeless population on San Francisco streets. It is a point of fact that to tackle this homeless crisis head-on we need deep investments in a continuum of care, including housing. I have always been supportive of progressive taxation, but it took briefings with frontline experts to learn how Proposition C’s plan could make change.  The tax will generate $300 million annually, 50 percent of which will go to building and rehabbing supportive housing, with another 25 percent going to intensive mental health and substance abuse facilities. The tax collector will start collecting these taxes in the new year — and I can think of several projects in District 3 that could desperately use this influx of funding.

Temporary District 3 Navigation Center. A year ago, I wrote a Marina Times column on the need for a District 3-specific Navigation Center. Since that time, I have been relentlessly surveying potential public sites, as well as entreating private property owners to consider one. It’s been a tough row to hoe, but I haven’t given up and have even received the support of the mayor to fund a site in District 3. The waterfront has presented itself as a reasonable locale based on many factors, including the number of public sites currently designated for light industrial or parking uses. But I understand that education in the community is critical, and my office has undertaken a series of listening tours to various neighborhood associations, as well as conducting small tours of existing Navigation Centers. While we hone in on a location, I remain committed to continuing the work to solicit neighborhood stakeholders on what they would like to see. Let’s tailor this to be the best temporary tool possible.

SB 1152. Senate Bill 1152 was signed into law this year and requires each hospital to create a written homeless patient discharge planning policy and process, and document clear transfer and posttreatment info before discharging a homeless patient. I began tracking this bill after a neighborhood meeting in lower Nob Hill, where neighborhood residents were frustrated with the current process for discharging homeless residents from St. Francis Medical Center. My office is working with the Department of Public Health and St. Francis to implement SB 1152.

As we all know, there is no silver bullet for addressing the homeless crisis, but there are things we can do together if we push hard enough.  I always appreciate your support in continuing to dial 311 for quality of life issues so we have data to support our claims that the neighborhood needs more resources; there is a world of difference between one supervisor demanding good management and deployment of resources and an entire community. Your voices make a difference.

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