The Future Starts Now

When Mayor London Breed submitted her budget to the Board of Supervisors on June 1, it had many problematic elements, but one in particular stood out for the Coalition on Homelessness: The mayor’s plan would raid $60 million from youth and family housing to pay for short-term housing, subsidies, shelter and other temporary funds for adults.

While visiting a tiny home site, Mayor Breed announced her plan that she wanted to fund shelter beds for unhoused San Franciscans. What she did not mention was the source of that funding and that these are already existing and replacement beds for closing shelter sites. All told, the mayor’s plan would result in a net loss of 80 beds.   What we quickly discovered was that the Mayor was proposing to use $40 million in existing Proposition C funds to be taken out of the housing category for youth and families, and $20 million in future Prop. C revenue meant for transitional aged youth (TAY) and families housing for the next two years. There was no permanent funding source secured for those adult shelter beds and subsidies. For a point of reference, every $20 million cut is equivalent to losing over 650 permanent housing slots for families and youth.    

Voters passed Prop. C in November 2018, but corporate and anti-tax groups held it up in court for two years. Prop. C generates approximately $300 million per year, and half the funds must go to housing and another quarter to behavioral health.Of the housing funds, the intention was to ensure families and youth experiencing homelessness are no longer ignored, so 20% of the housing funds are allocated to youth and 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 Our City Our Home Oversight Committee in the Controller’s Office.   But the Mayor’s office never presented the plans to gut family and TAY housing funds to that oversight body.

“The Mayor of San Francisco can and should fund all of these items without pitting homeless children and youth against homeless adults,” said Miguel Carrera, a formerly homeless community organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness. “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 $170 million wage raise to police, but for homeless adults chooses to take this considerably smaller amount of funding from children.” 

The mayor justified appropriating Prop. C funds by saying that state funds from Project Homekey could make up the difference.However, the investment plan for housing already considered that funding would be matched by Homekey, and single adult housing was also matched by Homekey, not replaced.  Prop. C was never meant to provide comprehensive funds necessary to address homelessness, but was meant to leverage needed state, federal and local funds. 

“We need support for many people who need decent and permanent housing,” said Leticia Grijalva, a formerly homeless .mother. “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 times making them think of quitting school to support their family.” 

Jennifer Friedenbach—the Prop. C, Our City Our Home campaign director who is also executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness,—added that Prop. C was designed to address such inequities. “We cannot solve homelessness if they continue to force poor families and youth to experience homelessness——the City must target our investments to prevent homelessness today and in the future,” she said.      

Last year, just one provider, Compass Family Services, had requests for shelter from 6,000 different family members in San Francisco, the most for family shelters. Only 14% of the city’s homeless housing units are for families with children. At the same time, on any given night in San Francisco, over 1,100 youth are experiencing homelessness. Over 50% of both youth and families are African American. Most currently homeless people in San Francisco first experienced homelessness as a child or a youth. 

As soon as this proposal came to light, community members instantly went to work fighting back. They included families and youth who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness, along with service providers and other concerned community leaders. The Coalition on Homelessness led the way by turning out folks to hearings, organizing a walk in City Hall corridors to visit policy makers, and reaching out to the media. The Our City Our Home oversight body held an emergency meeting and voted unanimously against the proposal. Two members of that body—Friedenbach and Chair Shanell Williams—along with family and youth advocates—met with the Controller’s Office, Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office and high-ranking Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing staff to craft a plan. 

From the community’s perspective, they wanted to come up with a proposal that would protect the youth and family housing, while funding shelter, housing and prevention for single adults. They resisted the move to pit these two communities against each other. In the end, creative solutions coming from the community, including from the Coalition on Homelessness, prevailed. The plan used interest garnered in the Prop. C fund going back since 2018 and two years forward which allowed it to cover the substantive proposals coming from the mayor’s office. At the same time, the housing for transitional aged youth and families was preserved.   This proposal went to the Board of Supervisors on July 18 and passed unanimously. 

In the end, this experience demonstrates what the Coalition on Homelessness has known all along:— By working together, we can solve homelessness and protect the progress we have made to date. When the issue isn’t being used as political fodder, or when unhoused people aren’t being used as political scapegoats, homeless people and their allies can find solutions that work. Prop. C is an example of such solutions. 

Since this funding was preserved, two more youth housing buildings in South of Market with 63 units between them were approved by the Board of Supervisors despite strong opposition from neighbors surrounding the proposed project. Next year, the funding will achieve a substantial increase in the number of housing slots——bringing on 4,453 permanent housing subsidies or units, 400 new treatment beds and coordinated case management for about 5,500 people with serious mental health or addiction disorders, 746 new shelter beds, and new homeless prevention services for 4,425 households. 

This was made possible when the community—homeless people themselves along with homeless service providers, business groups, religious groups, and civic groups—designed and carried out this voter initiative. Even more hard work ensued for the City and providers to carry out these plans. 

The initiative is getting attacked from all sides, mostly for political or financial gain. The reality is, without Prop. C, San Francisco would have a massive increase in the homeless population. With rising rents up and down the West Coast come high rates of homelessness—and that is hard to address without funding to cover the difference between incomes and rent. The worst thing the City can do is drive homelessness even higher by continuing to underserve and ignore homeless children and youth, who will become chronically homeless adults without intervention. San Francisco has a lot more work to do, and working together, we can move the dial on homelessness by fighting for more state, local and federal funding to address the issue.