CART, Prop. C and Service Providers: What the Coalition on Homelessness Demands in the City Budget

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said “the budget is a moral document,” and that is certainly the case in San Francisco.  Decisions about how we prioritize our spending can be a matter of life and death; whether we are investing money in law enforcement or health care or housing has real life consequences.  The Coalition on Homelessness (COH) has several budget campaigns operating simultaneously this year. If they are not included in the Mayor’s budget we will fight for that funding at the Board. We also push to have problematic or harmful items taken out of the budget, such as decreasing funding for carceral systems.

The City charter, which is kind of like the City’s constitution, requires that the Mayor release her budget on June 1. San Francisco is a strong mayor city, meaning the Mayor has tremendous power in the budget process. The Mayor lays out the budget for the City, and the mayor-appointed Controller projects how much money she will have to apportion. Once the Mayor releases the budget, the Board of Supervisors can only move dollars around—they can cut money out of the budget and then put money back in for other things. Then that all goes into an ordinance that the Mayor can veto. The board can override the veto with a supermajority, but ultimately the Mayor has spending authority. She can decide not to fund what the Board is asking her to, and then the money will just sit there and roll over into the next year’s budget.

What we want to cut

There are $136 million dollars in the sheriff’s budget that should be cut. These reductions were proposed  by No New Jails SF, Budget Justice and DPH Must Divest. This amount would be saved by reducing unneeded staffing from the jail closure of 850 Bryant St., which employed about one quarter of the Sheriff’s deputies, and removal of deputies from all Department of Public Health facilities, such as hospital rooms and clinics, as well as removal of deputies who serve as guards at the elections department and polling places, MUNI, and the deputies working the entry of the water department. The groups also proposed reductions to the police department, which would require forgoing replacement of operating vehicles, ending its mounted, marine and ATV sections, and not funding additional academy classes.

What we want to fund

Compassionate Alternative Response Team

Advocates with the Coalition on Homelessness and other organizations have observed a longstanding pattern of SFPD responses to calls related to unhoused people resulting in problematic, harmful, and at times deadly outcomes. In January 2019, the San Francisco Police Commission passed a resolution that called for an end to police response to homelessness and called for the Board of Supervisors to create a stakeholders’ group to develop an alternative. Preliminary meetings were pulled together in February 2020 under the leadership of Police Commissioner John Hamasaki to design an inclusive community process involving community members and key City departments and elected officials. The Departments of Public Health, Emergency Management, Homelessness and Supportive Housing, as well as the Mayor’s Office, were identified as key departments to be involved. Staff from offices of supervisors with high numbers of unhoused residents were invited, including the offices of Supervisors Matt Haney, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Sandra Fewer. Organizations that had a stake in the creation of an alternative to police response were invited as well. The budget process set aside $2 million on reserve for this program.

The planning process was sidelined for a few months when the pandemic hit, but started up again in July 2020. The COH hired Patrick Brown, a senior consultant from the Justice Collective, to facilitate the process, and various organizations provided other forms of in-kind support. Next, the COH convened a large group of stakeholders, including community organizations, City departments, elected officials, unhoused constituents, service providers, advocates and academics to establish a working group to devise an alternative to police response to homelessness. Brown assisted over 50 participants in the decision-making process. From the start, the group was intentional about centering unhoused individuals in the design of the alternative, seeking their input to form the foundation of the work through a citywide street survey.

Three subcommittees were formed: research, dispatch and communications. Collectively, the committees created a  system that no longer relies on unnecessary police responses, which it called the Compassionate Alternative Response Team (CART). 

It would change police codes to health codes. About a dozen emergency police codes related to homelessness would have a CART response rather than a police response. These codes include trespassing and sit/lie complaints. The new team would be government funded but community based, and consist of well paid, deeply trained individuals who reflect the unhoused community. The team would respond to and solve problems, conduct conflict mediation and address concerns. It would also be well resourced and ensure unhoused neighbors are connected to the services they need whenever possible. This would decrease unnecessary criminalization but also build up the resilience in the community to address homelessness, while being much more effective than the police. The program would cost about $4.6 million, on top of the $2 million already set aside for this purpose. 

Fully Fund Our City, Our Home Oversight Committee Recommendations

The COH designed, wrote, gathered signatures for, placed on the ballot and eventually passed “Our City, Our Home,” or Proposition C, in November 2018. The measure taxes corporate income over $50 million at an average of one-half percent and generates funding for homeless housing, shelter, mental health treatment and homeless prevention. The initiative requires an oversight body to recommend and oversee spending, with the intent of preserving the initiative as a people’s endeavor centered on the experience of unhoused community members themselves. The oversight body collected input from 850 people, mostly unhoused, as well as other experts such as service providers on how the money should be spent. Many proposals came from the community as well as from City departments, and the body created an investment plan that attempted to balance community and City requests while formulating a cohesive strategy to move the dial on homelessness in the most effective way. That investment plan now sits on the Mayor’s desk. It remains to be seen if the Mayor will honor the people’s initiative or if she will decide to cut some recommendations and fund alternative items. Once the Mayor releases this plan it will then be in the Board of Supervisors’ court. 

Recommendations for Investments Adopted at April and May OCOH Committee Meetings:

  • The Committee recommended investments totaling $508.3 million into Permanent Housing Expenditures and prioritized investments into a mix of development activities, 1,182 unit acquisitions, 1,300 Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool resources, 315 Medium-Term Subsidies and Rapid Rehousing supports, and non-time-limited bridge housing for youth. 
  • These investments include $22.9 million that the Committee recommended be transferred from the Homelessness Prevention fund balances and used to increase recommended investments into housing acquisition and development activities for adults, families with children, and transition age youth. 

Recommendations for Shelter Investments Adopted at April and May OCOH Committee Meetings:

  • The Committee recommended investments totaling $66.4 million into Homeless Shelter Expenditures, and prioritized investments into a range of different models for sheltering and supporting people, tailored to the needs of different sub-populations of people experiencing homelessness, adding more than a thousand beds.

Recommendations for Homeless Prevention Investments Adopted at April and May OCOH Committee Meetings:

  • The Committee recommended investments totaling $136.39 million into Homelessness Prevention Expenditures, and prioritized investments into a wide and flexible range of eviction prevention, homelessness prevention, problem-solving/diversion activities, and workforce services and supports. 
  • Further, the Committee recommended that $22.9 million be transferred from the Homelessness Prevention fund balances and used to increase recommended investments into housing acquisition and development activities for adults, families with children, and transition age youth with the Permanent Housing Expenditure category. 

Recommendations for Mental Health Investments Adopted at April and May OCOH Committee Meetings:

  • The Committee recommended investments totaling $150 million into Mental Health Expenditures, and prioritized investments in: 
    • Adding 325 residential treatment beds including both site acquisition and operations costs; supporting overdose prevention efforts targeting people using on the streets
    • Adding housing in the form of Board and Care housing and managed alcohol programs. 
    • Enhancing access to behavioral health services through the Behavioral Health Access Center and through services targeting specific populations and connected to existing settings
    • Expanding care coordination services for transitional age youth

Fully Fund the Homeless Emergency Services Provider Association (HESPA) Request

HESPA has requested a $27.7 million budget to address the homelessness crisis. Some of these items are in the OCOH investment plan, while others leverage Prop. C dollars. Included in the budget proposal are 1,212 housing subsidies for seniors, people with disabilities, people with HIV, families and youth. These are subsidies that households can use in the private market, and most are permanent, meaning impoverished households can use them as long as they need them. Also in the proposal are funding requests for emergency services such as hotel vouchers, and a replacement drop-in family shelter. If funded in full, this would add temporary lodging for about 345 households at any one time. It also has a request for technical assistance to reimagine the entire shelter system, as many are calling for a move away from congregate living coming out of the pandemic. There is also a small, but important, direct cash assistance pilot in the request, which would allow the city to experiment with guaranteed income as a poverty abatement strategy. For a long time, our shelter system has been devoid of adequate behavioral health services, and the mental health of shelter residents has steadily decreased. HESPA is asking for behavioral health services on site at shelters for single adults, families and youth to serve about 3,235 adults and children. Lastly, our homeless system lacks investments in developing a workforce of unhoused people. This has led to difficulty in exiting homelessness and poverty. HESPA is asking for “earn and learn” grants for about 1,000 unhoused participants. 

Add three permanent water sources in the Tenderloin

This is an inexpensive but life-saving resource that is badly needed in the Tenderloin. In a recent survey, we found that survey respondents overwhelmingly reported barriers to accessing basic water needs. 68% of respondents shared that  they face daily barriers to water access While many of the above recommendations attempt to address homelessness, we can anticipate there will continue to be folks stuck on the streets, and while they are, at the very least they should have access to water. This would cost less than $100,000, but would improve the health of those who are without housing. 

How to Get Involved

There will be several hearings coming up at the appropriations committee of the Board of Supervisors. The main hearing will take place on June 25 at 10a.m., and the agenda with call-in instructions will be posted 3 days before at the sfgov website under the Board of Supervisors Budget and Appropriations Committee information. For more information on how to get involved, please contact