As the pandemic continues and the shelter-in-place (SIP) hotels made available to unhoused community members begin to shut down, the most marginalized are suddenly being forced back onto the streets. As this occurs, one can only imagine the influx of calls to 911 dispatchers requesting the presence of police for nonviolent unhoused folks.
That is why it is so critical for San Francisco to implement the Compassionate Alternative Response Team, or CART, a response started and proposed by the community, for the community. CART seeks to end San Francisco’s current police response to homelessness and create a future of care rather than criminalization for the unhoused residents of San Francisco. CART is conceived as a community-led, government-funded response to street homelessness that holds those who are on the margins of our community at the center of proper systems of care that result in dignity instead of neglect. CART will address the social and behavioral health needs and conflicts occurring in public spaces involving unhoused people while lifting them up. CART would create well paid jobs and extensive training for Black and brown community members, the result of whose work would be efficient, effective and humane. In addition, it would reduce the risk of tragic and violent outcomes for both unhoused community members and police officers.
After the 2021 budget season and countless hours and advocacy from supporters and city residents this past June, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors secured $3 million for CART by reallocating money originally intended for the San Francisco Police Department. But $3 million only begins to scratch the surface and would only fund the program in full for the last five months of the fiscal year, with a program start-up date of February 1, 2022. But people surviving on San Francisco’s streets can’t afford to wait; we must implement CART now. So far, CART has not yet been assigned to the Department of Public Health’s behavioral health division, and there is concern that it might instead be housed in the Department of Emergency Management, which would undermine the spirit of the program. CART must be in DPH and left to the community to ensure cultural competency. That means the program should be staffed by community members who have themselves experienced homelessness. Advocates will continue to fight to #protectCARTnow and #fundCARTnow by spreading these hashtags on social media, hosting press conferences, educating new allies on CART as well as what a non-police response to homelessness looks like, and applying pressure on Mayor London Breed to implement CART now.