[Hpn] San Francisco's "Revised" Homeless Plan criticized by Coalition fw

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 21 Nov 2000 00:16:02 -0800 (PST)

"These plans are a drop in the bucket-type responses to homelessness," said
Paul Boden of the Coalition on Homelessness. "This is five years into this
frigging administration. For those of us who have been on the front lines,
this is very disappointing."

FWD  [CA USA] San Francisco Examiner - November 17, 2000  


     More outreach workers will be out at night,
     and shelter system services will be adjusted

     By Ilene Lelchuk

Mayor Willie Brown, criticized like other mayors before him about The
City's chronic homeless problem, will roll out cautious changes in his
shelter and outreach program starting next month.

George Smith, director of the Mayor's Office on Homelessness, said The City
will put more outreach workers on San Francisco's streets at night and
reshape its two largest shelters.

The focus will be assessing who wants The City's help and who is refusing
aid, while outreach workers expand their efforts to answer resident and
business complaints about people loitering or sleeping in doorways.

"We realize that the homeless population is changing and we are trying to
address that," said Smith, who once lived on the streets himself. "We are
finding more people who have jobs who are homeless."

An unscientific census of the population by Smith's staff and volunteers
counted 5,376 people living on the streets and shelters in October.
Homeless advocates, who frequently quarrel with the mayor's office,
estimate the number is closer to 12,500.

San Francisco's Department of Public Health estimates that as much as 39
percent of the homeless population suffers mental illness.

Smith is kicking off his new programs at the same time he is scrambling to
find 300 winter shelter beds in response to below-normal temperatures
hitting the Bay Area, with nighttime temperatures dipping into the 30s.

The City each winter adds a few hundred more emergency beds to the
1,600-bed system. Smith had planned to open the winter shelters by Dec. 1
but said he now is trying to move faster.

Churches provide most of the extra space. This year, Smith also is asking
two churches to open winter shelters to house seniors only.

Smith also has been redesigning The City's two largest emergency shelters,
Multi-Service Center North on Polk Street and Multi-Service Center South on
Fifth Street, which have a total of about 400 beds.

The plan is to divide the shelters' residents between homeless people who
simply want a place to sleep from those who want other help such as job
training, drug addiction treatment, mental health services, education and
help saving money for rent.

The City cannot legally force anyone into a shelter or to accept services.

The Mayors Office on Homelessness, in coordination with the Department of
Human Services and Department of Public Health, also is looking at ways to
offer more services after 5 p.m.

"At night we have no programs and no people to call," Smith said.

In addition, The City is hiring about six new outreach workers to ride in
the Mobile Assistance Patrol vans that have roamed the streets for the last
few years.

Smith said the van program was created to identify people living on the
streets and refer them to shelters or services. But lately, MAP drivers
find themselves doing more carpool work than counseling.

Smith is considering working with Muni to give able-bodied homeless persons
free bus tokens or passes to address their transportation needs.

Then, he said, MAP can focus on referrals - and its new task of responding
to neighborhood and business complaints about homeless people who loiter on
corners and in doorways.

The Mayors Office on Homelessness is setting up a 24-hour hot line to
answer their calls, Smith said.

Smith's plans aren't popular with some of The City's homeless advocates,
regular critics of the last three administrations' homeless policies, which
they said have been more focused on prosecuting people who sleep in
doorways than  providing services.

"These plans are a drop in the bucket-type responses to homelessness," said
Paul Boden of the Coalition on Homelessness. "This is five years into this
frigging administration. For those of us who have been on the front lines,
this is very disappointing."

Boden charged that the mayor's administration didn't consider other
suggestions, such as including on the MAP vans intake teams from various
homeless-services providers.

But Smith defended his efforts to involve groups from around The City in
planning for these changes.

"We're all over in the community," said Smith.

His office also was recently criticized for not creating more winter
shelter beds. Boden said 100 families are currently on a waiting list for
emergency shelter.

"There are always going to be some critics," he said. "We're never good
enough for everybody."

Other programs that Smith plans to roll out this year include the Hope
Center, a Bayview drop-in location with lockers, showers, free voice mail,
washers and dryers, a kitchen and job training. The Hope Center on Jennings
Street is an expansion of a food pantry there and will open Thanksgiving

"It's the first homeless program in the Bayview," Smith said, pointing out
that many services were centralized for years downtown, where the largest
concentration of homeless traditionally stay.

Plans are under way to open another drop-in center in the Mission District
next spring.

The mayor said earlier this year that he wants to create a computer system
that shows how many shelter beds are open each night and tracks which
services each client uses. Smith said he is still exploring the idea and
grappling with some client confidentiality issues that could make computer
tracking a sticky proposition.


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