Mayor’s Plan to Expand Shelter Guts Housing for Families and Youth

by Jennifer Friedenbach

Mayor London Breed announced plans last month to fund shelter for unhoused San Franciscans. What the mayor did not mention was  where that funding would come from. The Coalition on Homelessness supports the plans to replace and continue the announced 594 beds, not just for two years but permanently, and at the same time vehemently opposes that same plan to pay for some of these adult beds by gutting housing for homeless youth and families in Proposition C. 

In a last minute move, the Mayor is proposing to raid $60 million from Prop. C Housing fund allocated for transitional aged youth and families, taking $40 million from 2022/23 fund (and spending it in fiscal year 2024/25) and then $11.7m from transitional-aged youth (TAY) and $8.8 million from family housing in FY23/24 to be spent the same year.  This funding is being moved over to primarily adult interventions such as housing, prevention and shelter, items the Mayor should have funded within the city’s $14 billion budget. 

Voters approved Prop C deliberately to set aside funding for families and youth because they are hidden populations that have been historically ignored.  Currently, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing budget underfunds these two populations creating disparities and inequities.  Only 7% of their budget goes towards youth yet they make up 20% of the population, while only 9% of the budget goes towards families yet they make up 27% of the homeless population.  

The measure was also deliberately crafted to have a community oversight body to ensure the vision of Prop C was realized.  Community members led by Coalition on Homelessness spent hours poring over budgets, getting input from hundreds of unhoused people and front line service providers to ensure just that.  These last minute plans did not go through Our City Our Home (Prop C) Oversight Committee.

For every $20 million cut from the housing fund it is equivalent to a loss of over 650 permanent housing slots for families and youth.   

Prop. C generates approximately $300 million per year, and half the funds must go to housing and a quarter to behavioral health.  Over half of homeless people on these streets today reported becoming homeless before the age of 25.  Of the housing funds, the intention was  to ensure families and youth experiencing homelessness were no longer ignored, so 20% of the housing funds are allocated to youth, and another 25% to homeless families.  The total annual funds set aside for housing for these populations is roughly $67 million combined.

The fund is overseen by the OCOH committee in the Controller’s Office. The mayor’s  plan to gut family and TAY housing funds was not presented to the oversight body. 

According to Miguel Carrera, a formerly homeless organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, “The Mayor of San Francisco can and should fund all of these items without pitting homeless children and youth against homeless adults. The city has a $14 billion dollar budget—$40 million is a fraction of that budget. The budget priorities are inequitable when the mayor finds funding for a $180 million raise to police, and pays 130 Sheriffs to patrol the Tenderloin but for homeless adults chooses to take this considerably smaller amount of  funding from children.” 

The mayor is justifying the use of these funds by saying there are extra dollars given the new state funds from the Project Homekey program. However, the investment plan for housing already considered that funding would be matched by Homekey, and single adult housing was also matched by Homekey. Prop. C was never meant to provide comprehensive funds necessary to address homelessness, but was meant to supplement state, federal and local funds. 

According to Leticia Grijalva, a formerly homeless mom, “We need support for many people who need decent and permanent housing. We don’t want to be a public charge but sometimes the need is great. Having support from our government is our last hope. Many of our children have to watch their parents struggle to keep them in housing many of the times making them think of quitting school to support their family.” 

“Prop. C was deliberately designed with these inequities in mind,“ said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and a member of the OCOH oversight committee. “We cannot solve homelessness if we continue to force poor families and youth to experience homelessness” 


Impact of Homelessness on Transitional Aged Youth and Children

Why the focus on youth and families?

As science is determining, traumatic events of early childhood are called “adverse childhood events” and the impacts are debilitating for a lifetime.  This move will ensure few to no new interventions for youth and families with children and will result in a net reduction in interventions for youth and families, thus failing to take the necessary steps to avoid these impacts. 

A YES vote on this budget proposal will increase homelessness for TAY and families now, and increase adult chronic homelessness later.

Last year, just one provider, Compass Family Services, supported more than 2500 families needing/seeking housing support/housing stabilization. Only 14% of the City’s homeless housing units are for families with children.  

On any given night in San Francisco, nearly 1,100 youth are experiencing homelessness, and more than HALF  are African American. Nearly 1,000 new youth fall into homelessness each year. Raiding TAY housing funds will mean that only 15% of youth seeking housing resources will receive them, leaving 850 youth each year out in the cold.

These cuts to TAY and Family housing will set us back in terms of equity goals.  Families and Youth have even higher racial and queer disparities.  For example, almost half of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ and 61% are BIPOC.  Over half of families are African American.

2018 Prop C Our City Our Home was intentionally designed to go upstream and stop the inflow into homelessness.  Homeless children are five times more likely than their peers to become homeless as adults.  Homelessness among children has also been found to have a negative impact on education, with lower academic achievement, and disrupted schooling due to higher absenteeism. Less than half of homeless children nationwide met state proficiency requirements in reading, math, and science. As a result, over 50% of homeless children are held back for one grade, and 22% for multiple grades. At the same time, homeless children have an 87% increased chance of dropping out of high school.

50% of people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco had their first episode of homelessness before they were 25. Ending homelessness for families and children prevents these young people from becoming the city’s next generation of homeless adults. Divesting in housing for TAY and families now will increase adult chronic homelessness later.

This is a matter of life and death. A six-year research study of youth experiencing homelessness in San Francisco showed that young people without a safe place to call home die at rates ten times higher than their housed peers. Research from Chapin Hall found that youth who are homeless, Black, and LGBTQ+ experience the highest rates of assault, trauma, and early death.

San Francisco has a lack of vision for ending youth and family homelessness. In their strategic plan, they left these populations out and dramatically undercounted the actual need.  As a result they did not get badly needed programs out the door, nor planned for them, and are now stating they have unspent funds. The capacity in the department instead focused on the single adult population. 

Once these funds are swept, they will not come back to the TAY and family systems–they will be used to sustain other priorities. This divestment is not one-time, it is a long-term shift away from TAY and families.