Critics question mayor's policies on homelessness
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
- San Francisco Chronicle
Variety of opinions on housing, services at Daly's hearing
Dozens of homeless people and those who work to help them filled the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' meeting chamber Monday to tussle over two questions in Mayor Gavin Newsom's efforts to help the homeless: How much of his reported progress is just public relations spin, and how fast should the city redirect its funding from existing social services into permanent housing programs?
The answer to both is a matter of perspective, judging by the feisty exchange of views at the hearing before the board's Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee, called for by Supervisor Chris Daly.
Some said they think the mayor's growing, monthly "Project Homeless Connect" -- in which civilians help city homeless outreach workers for a day -- is more about appearances and making volunteers feel good than it is about providing genuine help, while others disagreed.
Some complained that too many nonhousing services -- such as drop-in counseling and outpatient medical services -- are in danger of being cut to help fund new housing with "supportive" on-site assistance programs, while others said the aggressive emphasis on housing is necessary to turn around the city's crisis with homelessness.
And then there was the ongoing debate over Care Not Cash, the program that cuts welfare grants to the homeless while offering them services and housing or shelter instead. Daly and several homeless advocates said the program is not providing enough housing and services to make up for the cut in grants from $410 a month to $59, while city welfare officials said the program is creating hundreds of units of housing that otherwise would not exist.
"I think that for about a year, a little over a year, there has been a culture of fear ... a feeling that if folks speak out, they would be talked to by the mayor's office," said Daly, who joined the critics in the crowd in questioning the direction of the city's homeless policies.
Monday's airing of complaints, he said, was meant to give voice to those who felt that fear -- and indeed, the majority of those who spoke were critical of the Newsom administration's efforts.
Department of Human Services director Trent Rhorer, Newsom's chief homelessness adviser, said he was glad to hear the community's input. But he said that the city's vigorous emphasis on providing housing over nonhousing services is the best way to implement the city's 10-Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness, passed last summer -- and that such an emphasis is increasingly being required in any application for federal homelessness funding.
"There's always room for improvement, and public dialogue is always helpful," Rhorer said. "But I think people who criticize what we're doing should come and look at the progress more closely."
E-mail Kevin Fagan at email@example.com.