City Budget Woes: No Mother Should Roam—We All Deserve A Home! 

Aftereffects of a global pandemic are causing fallout for San Francisco’s budget. A deficit of over $780 million—a combination of falling business tax revenue caused by remote work, and tourism that hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels—could fall on the backs of the poorest San Franciscans. Meanwhile, San Francisco is trapped in a “doom loop” media cycle furthered by tech doomer billionaires like Garry Tan and aligned elected officials. Their push for an austerity budget will place the rising cost of housing, child care, education and living expenses on residents while increasing policing, surveillance and corporate write-offs. Meanwhile, the City pays for proactive change, such as investing in housing by robbing other needy groups.

The San Francisco City budget process for the 2024-25 fiscal year has begun. The Board of Supervisors must finalize the budget and the mayor has to sign it by July 2024. A coalition made up of labor and non-governmental organizations called the People’s Budget Coalition is joining together to advocate for a balanced, holistic approach to housing and economic justice while combating specific anticipated budget cuts from the City. 

Here at Street Sheet, which the Coalition on Homelessness publishes, we hold out hope for the future for all San Franciscans who call this city home. The diversity and vibrancy of San Francisco is what makes our city special. After all, who is the city for? Is it only for the wealthy or is it for everyone? It is critical that at this crossroads we align our values and San Francisco’s history and make the right choices. After all, we have two different San Franciscos: one in which some of our residents are choosing between five different kinds of milk for their latte, and another where others must choose between paying the rent and food on the table.

Indeed, the City is facing tremendous problems: an untreated overdose crisis, skyrocketing family homelessness and critical workforce shortfalls, to name a few. At the same time, we need to take a proactive approach in ensuring that San Franciscans have stable housing. We shouldn’t cut programs keeping residents off the streets or in safe, liveable housing, but that is exactly what is being proposed.  

The City is asking to slash up to $23 million in back-rent support for San Franciscans at risk of homelessness and displacement. This is state money that is going away, and for those 1,500 households still in need of assistance, it will spell disaster. The last thing we need is a huge surge in homelessness.

There has been tremendous media coverage as of late on the current surge in family homelessness, with over 442 families on the waitlist for emergency shelter and hotel vouchers. The number of homeless families has increased 36% between 2019 and 2023. Many of the families are newly unhoused, while many other families have been stuck in shelter for months or years. Every night, we have children sleeping in parks, in cars and on buses. With one hand, the City is proposing to cut funding for Proposition C family and youth housing, which amounts to $5 million to family housing and $5.9 million to youth housing. This money must be restored. With the other hand, the City suggests cutting another $10 million from youth housing to pay for more hotel vouchers and subsidies for families—in other words hurting homeless youth to pay for homeless families. 

On May 9, many of the hundreds of families experiencing homelessness in San Francisco gathered at City Hall to celebrate Mother’s Day and to deliver handcrafted miniature felt houses and letters to the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed with the message “No mother should roam—we all deserve a home.” Many speakers explained how homelessness has devastated their lives and those of their children, and the pain mothers feel living through this trauma. 

“The purpose of this Mother’s Day action is to honor and celebrate mothers from all backgrounds while advocating for housing justice for families in San Francisco,” said Solinna Ven, organizing director at the Coalition on Homelessness. “By commemorating Mother’s Day, we recognize the invaluable contributions of mothers to our communities and acknowledge the challenges they face, particularly concerning housing insecurity. This action raised awareness about the urgent need for preventative, supportive, and permanent solutions to homelessness that will provide affordable and stable housing for all families.” 

We absolutely need additional investments in family subsidies and hotel vouchers. We also need to put in place a safe parking site for families and individuals living in RV’s. However, this cannot and should not be paid for by taking more funds away from homeless people.

Despite the City facing such a large deficit, it still has choices in spending. For example, the Mayor is proposing to increase police and security funding. That’s money that could be allocated elsewhere. Also, City Hall says that the key to building a stronger local economy is to bring back restaurants and businesses to San Francisco. The City’s own analysis points to the need to identify more service workers—yet the City does nothing to ensure that working people are able to afford to live and thrive in SF, which it could do by ensuring safe streets, lively restaurants and cafes, clean parks, and more. 

The City’s own departments predict that budget cuts will worsen the homelessness crisis, and they advise against further cuts. San Francisco’s budget has grown to historic highs in the billions. Two years ago, our City had a massive surplus—but we haven’t seen the City hiring more workers to provide key services such as cleaning streets and parks nor building the amount of affordable housing we sorely need. Instead, police officers are depicted in this “doom loop” narrative  as the only tool needed to tackle complex social problems and are being overburdened in playing this role. We need the right tools for the right jobs. 

After all, cops can’t staff food banks, provide job training to help secure employment opportunities for residents or navigate social services to get folks housed. The San Francisco Police Department is not a Swiss Army knife able to solve all problems. We can and must prioritize organizations with a proven track record of preventing and solving homelessness, while also advocating for increased economic opportunities for our people.