Dia De Los Muertos: Highlighting the Urgent Need for Family Services

by Olivia Glowacki

A grandmother in our Housing Justice Work Group reported to us the death of her grandchild, who prematurely died in the womb, according to her doctor, most likely due to the mother’s stress of being homeless and on the streets. This news emerged in the midst of a three-year battle with the City of San Francisco to make pregnant people eligible for family homeless services. Prior to our recent win, the policy was that only those who were in their third trimester of pregnancy were eligible for homeless family services. While we have long known the importance of the first few months of pregnancy, how the mother’s health directly correlates to the child’s health and sets up healthy development for life, until this month the City remained steadfast in affirming this antiquated, arbitrary practice. 

During our annual Dia de los Muertos celebration, we wanted to honor families, children and their parents whose lives are cut short due to the trauma of being unhoused. This year, we took to the streets in a procession from the Coalition on Homelessness to City Hall with dozens of supporters and an altar complete with candles, food, marigolds and sugar skulls. 

On our way to City Hall, we marched through the farmer’s market, drawing attention and awareness to an often forgotten subgroup of people: families experiencing homelessness. We briefly stopped at Compass Family Services and heard from Mary Kate Bacalao, their Development and Communications Director, about the many subsidies which are awarded to families through their various programs. Mary Kate spoke at length about the latest budget win: 36 rapid-rehousing subsidies which will help exit families from homelessness into a home of their own. Nathaly Frias, a peer organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, spoke about her personal experience with Compass. Her family was recently able to move out of the RV the had been living in for many months thanks to such a subsidy. Both Nathaly and Mary Kate spoke to the success of advocacy and organizing with community power: winning subsidies to house families!

 Once at City Hall, we lobbied for policies that help families experiencing homelessness, just like the subsidies. One of our four demands was for the Board of Supervisors to release the 36 rapid rehousing subsidies. While the funding is there, it has not been released, preventing families who are currently suffering on the streets and in shelters from getting the financial assistance to have a home of their own. 

Another demand we had was for a full service shelter replacement for the family emergency shelter at First Friendship Institutional Baptist Church. As it stands, First Friendship is a large room in a church where families come nightly to sleep with their children on 2-inch mats on the floor. There is no storage at First Friendship, meaning families who reside there must lug their belongings there each night, only having to haul it out the next morning when they have to leave. Further, First Friendship doesn’t have showers, so families who live there have to get up early to walk across town to access showers so their children can wash up before school. Similarly to the rent subsidies, the City has the money for a replacement to Frist Friendship — with storage and showers — yet has not acted since the money was allocated two years ago. 

 Our third demand was for speedy, flexible emergency transfers in public and city-funded housing. We need such transfers in public housing units when there are emergency situations. For example, in cases of domestic violence, we want to be able to ensure that families are able to transfer units quickly so that they can be safe and healthy. Another example is if they face the threat of eviction for a change in family size.

Our fourth and final demand was specifically to Mayor London Breed: seat the Our City Our Home Oversight Committee. The successful measure from the November 2018 ballot, Proposition C, which practically doubles the City’s budget for homelessness, is held up in court right now because of the rich oligarchy of white men represented by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Business Roundtable and California Apartment Association, who want to stifle the will of the people and hold up lifesaving money while people die on our streets. 

To make matters worse, some of this frozen money which was given by Salesforce up front, has already been spent by the Mayor without input from the mandated oversight committee. While we know San Francisco has a severe shortage of shelter beds, the Our City Our Home allocations fund housing, the solution to homelessness. Also, Our City Our Home has spending requirements, so a certain percentage of money is required to go to families. As of now, not a cent of the money Mayor Breed has spent has gone to families. We need the Our City Our Home Oversight Committee to be formed to hold the Mayor, or anyone else, accountable to how it should be spent. 

 While all these issues are ongoing, we at the Coalition will continue to fight for families experiencing homelessness. All of our demands come from the people at our open Housing Justice Work Group meetings from 12 noon to 2 p.m. every Tuesday. Stop by our new office at 280 Turk St. to see how we organize, advocate and fight for all to have safe, dignified housing.