[Hpn] The Gentrification of San Francisco's Homeless Shelters - by COH Staff

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Sun, 23 Apr 2000 16:36:53 -0700


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The Gentrification of San Francisco's Homeless Shelters

The entire city is undergoing gentrification - from the destruction 
of 4,000 units of public housing in newly-desirable neighborhoods, to 
the massive explosion of live-work space. San Francisco is the hip 
place to be for the financially comfortable. As a result, rents have 
doubled, we are losing our diversity, families of color are being 
driven out, and thousands are being evicted - which leads us to 
homelessness. A bleak situation indeed for all of us who love this 
city.

The rich get richer, and the poor get screwed. The rich in San 
Francisco includes the hotel industry and downtown businesses, who 
feel homelessness actually affects them. Homeless people hurt 
tourism... supposedly. Even though the tourist industry in San 
Francisco is far from hurting - in fact, it is booming. Nevertheless, 
the haves have been trying to push the have-nots as far away from 
them as possible. They have done this by supporting gentrification, 
and by promoting policies designed to push homeless people out of 
downtown areas.

The cornerstone of these efforts was Prop. E, which was financed by 
the Hotel Council. It was defeated in the March election, but not 
before all kinds of false, biased and hateful rhetoric against 
homeless people was voiced Prop. E's supporters.

Unfortunately, the City listened. The Department of Human Services, 
Mayor's Office on Homelessness and the Department of Public Health, 
in direct response, have developed a massive gentrification plan for 
the shelters. Homeless adults would see a huge rent increase (from $0 
to $300) - and would be thrust further into poverty. Homeless public 
assistance recipients would have to use the bulk of their checks to 
pay rent for a measly cot or a mat on the floor. In fact, the entire 
shelter system would be transformed into a class system based on 
income. Homeless peoples' fate would be determined by how much money 
they do or do not have.

Documents uncovered in recent Freedom of Information Act requests 
made by the Coalition on Homelessness revealed a fully-developed plan 
by employees of the Mayor's office, the Department of Human Services, 
and the Department of Public Health to not only charge rent in 
shelters but to completely redesign the shelter system. This plan, of 
course, was developed without ANY input from homeless people.

What would homeless folks get for all this money paid? (Beyond a 
measly cot or a mat on the floor, that is.) You would think they 
might possibly get something they actually wanted. But no, what they 
will get is "case management" services they could get for free 
elsewhere, and a new 300 bed shelter in Bayview Hunters Point. They 
will lose anonymity. They will be forced to go through an assessment, 
whether they need it or not, and submit to an incredibly complex 
process to just stay in shelter.

What about the 71% (809) of people currently in shelters who have no 
income? They would get sent to exile shelters, and have to compete 
for only 255 beds.

Public Assistance recipients who are in informal housing situations, 
such as those paying rent to friends, or people who aren't named on 
the lease, would become homeless if they could not produce a rent 
receipt from a landlord.

There are only 1,140 shelter beds for single adults and 3,000 
homeless CAAP recipients. (29% of homeless people report to be on 
CAAP, April-June 1999). The shelters are already full and have 
turn-aways daily. We don't know for sure, but can only guess that 
those who can't get into the shelters because they are full will get 
screwed one way or another.

SSI recipients and those who have graduated from PAES will supposedly 
be provided with housing in SRO hotels. The plan named the Vincent 
Hotel, the Hartland, and the LeNaine as SRO's that would be 
master-leased. According to records, many of these rooms are already 
occupied, and this plan would only displace current tenants who don't 
have any tenant rights.

This is the same charade we witnessed when Mission Rock closed. The 
City made a big deal out of saying they were providing people with 
SRO rooms. Guess what? Not only did they place severe limits on who 
could get into those rooms, but the hotel evicted a bunch of current 
tenants to make room for the Mission Rock folks. Besides, hotel 
conditions are horrible, and the buildings aren't fully accessible 
for people with disabilities. City funds would be used to feed 
slumlords high rents. It goes without saying that this plan, once 
again, does not create any safe affordable housing.

The new Bayview shelter would serve as the central intake point for 
homeless CAAP recipients. They first have to report to the "access 
team." From there, they move on to another site. This is clearly a 
way to move homeless people out of tourist and business areas. The 
plan is unrealistic and inaccessible - when we should have 
de-centralized community-based entries into our shelter system.

The "access team" would be moving around to different sites, homeless 
people would call to find out where they are. This confusing proposal 
is similar to an expanded MOST team that would be responsible for 
intakes, making an initial assessment and part of the referral, and 
would herd homeless people through the "system of care."

Unless they are disabled, people who receive public assistance must 
participate in workfare to receive their checks. It is unjust to pay 
people for their work in vouchers redeemable for a mat on a floor or 
a cot in a shelter. And the redesign plan would also eliminate a 
cornerstone of the current homeless program in San Francisco, since 
people would no longer be able to save up money to move into 
permanent housing.

The proposal would also put even more power into the hands of CAAP 
eligibility workers (just like anyone ever mistook them for being 
competent professionals). CAAP would now attach shelter to grants, 
and if someone loses their benefits they lost their shelter as well.

Beds would no longer be available through the lottery system, except 
at Dolores, Hospitality House, A Man's Place, and A Woman's Place.

Welcome to Prop. E - plan "B." This is the City's vision for our new, 
revitalized, gentrified shelter system. If you got money, you're cool 
- if not, you're screwed!

Unsurprisingly, when community members demanded that Will 
Lightbourne, the Director of the Department of Human Services, come 
and present on this plan to the Local Homeless Coordinating Board, he 
lied. Not only did he try to say the planning was open and had been 
getting community input (NOT!), but then he contradicted himself, 
saying there was NO plan.


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