A Matter of Priorities

By Louise Andersen

The Coalition on Homelessness gathered a great group of people on Market Street on a cloudy Thursday afternoon. Around 100 people gathered in front of the Westfield Mall to draw attention to the issue of homeless families and children in San Francisco. There are currently 3,300 homeless children in the city—that’s enough children to fill 70 classrooms.

A lot of families came with their children, but also seniors and a bunch of young people showed up. There was a good showing of media attention to cover the event.

Homelessness among children is a very serious issue, and most people get affected by the image of a sad child’s face. Homeless children are more likely to die prematurely than their housed counterparts: They have their lifespans shortened by a full 20 years because of a lack of access to hygiene, a higher risk factor for a number of illnesses, high stress, violence, and sleep depravation. This is not a safe or secure upbringing for a child.

The Coalition on Homelessness has presented a Five-Year Plan to end the crisis of family homelessness. The carefully constructed plan was developed by a broad coalition of community organizations: family service providers, non-profit housing developers, and advocacy organizations. The report, entitled The Roadmap, details a concrete plan that could end homelessness for all currently homeless children within five years. The participants of the protest were gathered to make the Mayor deal with the problem of homelessness and implement the 5-year-plan.

Around 4:30 the protesters start lining up on Market Street with signs with quotes such as, “What about me?” “I am homeless too.” “Should I leave during Super Bowl?” “Mayor Lee We Need Housing.”

Many people have an idea of homeless folks only being the people they actually notice on the streets. Family and child homelessness is invisible, and therefore a forgotten and ignored issue. But the fact that the problem is not visible does not mean it is not there. Throughout the city, there are children who live in cars with their parents, in residential hotels, crowded on mats in church basements, or in tents.

Even though it was a silent rally, some of the participants could not help chanting. For example, “I’m homeless and I vote!” and, “Mayor Lee! We need housing!” But even before and after the chanting, the long lining of people with signs attracted a lot of attention itself.

Participants handed out flyers to passersby with Mayor Ed Lee’s telephone number on them. Some started calling the Mayor’s office right in the middle of the rally.

After two hours, we brought the demonstration to a close, and everybody got pizza from the Coalition.