[Hpn] San Francisco, CA -- Homeless measure makes sense -- San Francisco
Examiner - July 2, 2002
Wed, 03 Jul 2002 09:16:02 -0500
HOMELESS MEASURE MAKES SINCE
Care Not Cash plan should make ballot
by Ken Garcia - San Francisco Examiner - July 2, 2002
Kindness may be an admirable trait, but it's no substitute for effective public
policy -- as the state of San Francisco's streets proves rather pungently each
For close to a decade now, residents have been complaining about the city's
burgeoning homeless population. Yet, though everyone sees the problem, our
leaders can't agree on a solution -- happily spending hundreds of millions of
dollars while the number of street people has risen faster than their rhetoric.
But the city may get a wake-up call this year when its voters probably will have
a chance to establish a new policy on homelessness, one that is more
comprehensive and compassionate than the costly and chaotic puzzle that now
It won't solve homelessness, but it should provide people with more housing and
services. And judging by the results in other cities, it should greatly reduce
the number of street people -- unless, of course, the so-called homeless
advocates, who oppose the idea, have their way.
The new policy is contained in an initiative authored by Supervisor Gavin Newsom
that will almost certainly qualify for the November ballot by July 8.
The plan, called Care Not Cash, is designed to convert welfare payments into
guaranteed services for housing, food and mental health and substance abuse
It's an idea that has been pulled off with great success in other liberal
strongholds like Alameda County and Chicago -- and it's a program that the city
streets show so vividly is long overdue.
"Everyone has moved away from handing out cash, and San Francisco offers more
cash than any other city in the country," Newsom told me last week. "When people
start talking about why there are so many homeless here, you can look first at
all the people coming here to cash their checks."
Where a sizable share of that money goes is fairly obvious. You can time the
jump in drug overdoses and drug-related deaths in San Francisco and elsewhere to
the 15th of each month, when welfare checks are handed out.
Don't take my word for it. You can find the study in the New England Journal of
Medicine or just go talk to the doctors at San Francisco General Hospital, where
the leading cause of death among homeless people is drug poisoning.
"The homeless have a lot of needs that aren't being met, and I'm supportive of
anything that gets these people more services," said Dr. Frank Staggers Jr.,
medical director of the Free Clinic's substance abuse programs. "We're seeing
Third World-type poverty and malnutrition and anything that gets these people
more food I would support."
That will explain why some very compassionate people, such as Dr. Pablo Stewart
of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, Mitch Katz, head of the Department of Public
Health, and Barbara Garcia, director of the Health Department's community
programs, are solidly behind Newsom's plan.
They've been on the front lines of the battle against homelessness and drug
abuse, and they've seen what the city's wasted millions have wrought.
And it will also point out why the poverty lobby, which has pushed programs that
have created the worst homeless problem in the country, is scared to death of
the initiative. If it's passed, the plan will definitely hurt its business.
The argument against the plan is relatively simple -- how could you possibly
consider taking money away from the poor?
The sentiment behind it is that somehow the initiative lacks compassion for the
Yet where is the kindness in a system that has increased the number of homeless,
has provided few housing options and has contributed to an alarming number of
homeless deaths each year primarily from drug abuse?
In the past year alone, San Francisco has directly provided more than $100
million in taxpayer money on homeless services.
Yet during the past six years more than 1,000 people have died on San
Francisco's streets of drug- and alcohol-related causes.
It's worth noting that Chicago, which provides no cash but services aplenty, had
only four such homeless deaths last year, despite the fact that its climate
shifts somewhere between Antarctica and Hell's Kitchen.
Newsom's initiative, which will qualify with far more than the 9,735 voter
signatures required, has its heart in the right place.
It still allows homeless people who quality for GA benefits to get a modest
amount of spending money, but directs the vast portion toward getting homeless
people back on their feet.
(Those interested in finding out more about the plan can go to
www.carenotcash.org or call 415-730-5324.)
The reform proposal has attracted broad-based support, according to the
campaign's private polls.
More than 70 percent of those surveyed favor the plan, and the constituency
comes from many of the most "progressive" areas of the city, the Mission, the
Castro, the Tenderloin and other areas beset by homelessness.
"We're convinced this plan will save lives and improve the delivery system for
needed services," Newsom said.
"What can be more compassionate than giving people help that can improve the
quality of their lives?"
Homeless and Housing News