In the 2021 San Francisco budget process, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously supported the implementation of the Compassionate Alternative Response Team (CART), but Mayor London Breed refused to execute this ordinance, which would activate the peer-led CART teams, because she launched her own version of street outreach called Street Wellness Teams. Yet, $3 million in funding was secured to begin the implementation of CART, which currently sits untouched in unallocated reserve for a year. This specific amount only allows CART to be operational for six months. Even though monetary funds existed during that fiscal year, CART remains stalled out. CART must be implemented by Mayor Breed and allow for leaders of CART to utilize these funds to begin educating, counseling and providing a safe space for the unhoused community in San Francisco.
The funding of CART relies on existing monetary funds from the allocated budget for the San Francisco Police Department. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has an allocated budget of $852 million compared with the combined Public Protection fund of $1.6 billion, which includes the police, fire and sheriff’s department; a law enforcement approach to homelessness and behavioral health has proven itself to be expensive, as well as ineffective. The police budget must be decreased and these funds must be diverted for CART to use. The discrepancies in the fiscal budget from the City and County of San Francisco do not allow for a clear and transparent budget outline for people to see.
In the 2022 City budget, CART demands additional funding this fiscal year, but the mayor is stalling the implementation of this new program. The $3 million secured funding is a significant win for many advocates and organizers within our community. Without the approval from the mayor, CART will not exist, and requesting more grants will create obstacles for CART. Since these funds are not available, CART cannot access them to start the process of gathering people, resources for training and other tools.
Social justice advocates lobbied to defund the police and to reallocate those funds to CART, which stands to be the alternative response to policing unhoused communities. Police officers do not possess the qualifications, qualities, values and morals to respond to situations involving vulnerable communities like the unhoused community. Police officers are not adequately trained to handle any situations involving unhoused folks. Whereas police officers responding in these situations create a large-scale problem, CART would genuinely support and guide unhoused people.
The “defund the police” movement focuses on a revolutionary action that drastically promotes positive change in the social structures of education, legal, health care and housing systems to create a harmonious society. To do such a powerful change, alternative solutions in a suggested timeline provide a gateway for a great future. Consequently, policing is a punitive and harmful approach to homelessness that exacerbates racial, gender and class disparities. The City and County of San Francisco must provide financial support to community-based initiatives. We have effectively identified the issues, solutions, demands and conflicts around the issue of housing.
In 2016, the City launched a report depicting that “current enforcement measures are too expensive”, and that the police department had “limited results from enforcing quality-of-life laws against the homeless”. If the City understands police resources do not effectively contribute to its end goals, it must reevaluate its program and budget allocations. The CART Coalition profoundly knows that our program will benefit and solve many of the issues that unhoused populations endure while living in San Francisco. CART must be placed in San Francisco’s Department of Public Health’s behavioral health division, not the Department of Emergency Management.
In 2019, a community-led coalition of service providers, nonprofits and unhoused community members designed a unique approach called CART to eliminate systemic barriers that unhoused people endure when navigating through legal, educational and housing systems. The basis of the CART proposal reengineers emergency communications, dispatch and response strategy to address the social and behavioral health needs occurring in public spaces while uplifting our unhoused neighbors. Specifically, a collective working group — Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) — will allow for accountability between CART, Department of Emergency Management, Street Crisis Response Team and other City departments to review call-taking and dispatch incident data on a recurring basis. CART will provide a distinctive process that fosters ethical responses to any situations concerning homeless individuals by incorporating a dedicated CART dispatch hotline and creating two different staff departments — one called Crisis Response, the other Community Engagement — that will directly engage with unhoused individuals.
The goals outlined within the CART proposal will effectively produce the following end results: “reduce police dispatches to homelessness-related quality-of-life complaints; reduce the number of individuals transported to the emergency department for low acuity medical-related issues that could instead be addressed in a pre-hospital care setting; reduce the number of behavioral health and lower acuity medical calls traditionally responded to by the Police and Fire Departments and improve outcomes for those on the streets; and reduce the number of homelessness-related calls to dispatch, in areas where the CART program’s community-strengthening interventions have occurred”. Spread our petition to demand that CART be implemented and let’s apply pressure on Mayor Breed to immediately introduce this policy. We must #protectCARTnow and #fundCARTnow because many people will drastically benefit from it.