ALERT: Homeless Voucher Ballot Initiative launched by SF

Tom Boland (
Thu, 21 Oct 1999 18:17:56 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  San Francisco Examiner - Thursday, October 21, 1999



     By Ilene Lelchuk of The Examiner Staff

It took just three weeks for a group of San Francisco merchants, who are
tired of shooing sleeping homeless people out of their doorways every
morning, to gather 16,000 signatures from voters who support replacing
welfare checks with vouchers for housing.

And as the shop owners circulated petitions this month to get their plan on
the March ballot, three leading mayoral candidates in the Nov. 2 race
pitched their own voucher proposals.

It looks as if The City's homeless problem has finally taken its
traditional spot at center stage in the election season, and the voucher
system has emerged as the leading solution  --  one that sends General
Assistance recipients a message that many don't think they can be trusted
to spend their checks responsibly.

"Partly, the idea is catching on because we're in an election cycle. And
this appears to be a solution that doesn't cost the taxpayers any more
money," said Steve Erie, a professor at UC-San Diego specializing in urban

But looks can be deceiving, according to homeless advocates. They say
high-rent San Francisco doesn't have enough low-cost rooms to accommodate
the homeless and the very poor.

"It's the "Field of Dreams' approach. Give a voucher and a hotel room will
appear," said Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing
Clinic, which helps the poor find local housing.

City estimates show there are about 19,700 low-rent rooms in residential
hotels throughout San Francisco. But Shaw says few or none are vacant. The
City estimates there are 12,000 to 14,000 people living on San Francisco
streets or are so poor that they face the daily threat of losing their

*The latest voucher plan*

The latest voucher plan comes from merchants and hotel owners led by former
city Human Services Commissioner Earl Rynerson, who believes enough housing
is available. He worries that welfare recipients are squandering their
checks on liquor and drugs instead of rent.

"Giving them cash is like giving them loaded revolvers," Rynerson said. "It
keeps them on the streets."

Rynerson said his group, SF CARES  --  San Franciscans for Cash Assistance
Reform for Enhanced Services  --  collected more than the 15,000 signatures
needed by Nov. 8 to qualify the measure for the March ballot.

Rynerson wants to give GA recipients only 15 percent of their benefits in
cash, while the remaining 85 percent would go for housing and services such
as addiction treatment and job training.

Monthly checks now range from $294 to $364.

The measure also would tighten rules regarding proof of residency,
fingerprinting and penalties for fraud.

Supporter David Heller, who owns a beauty supply store in the Richmond,
believes the current cash system encourages the down-and-out to move to San
Francisco because easy money is available here. Then the recipients waste
their checks.

"We are talking about the people who get money on the first and the 15th
and it's gone by 12 p.m.," said Heller, president of the Greater Geary
Boulevard Merchants Association.

The merchants previously tried and failed to win support for the plan from
Mayor Willie Brown and the Board of Supervisors. So they are going to the
voters, knowing there is a precedent of support there.

*Voters have supported vouchers*

Voters approved a similar measure put on the ballot by then-Mayor Frank
Jordan in 1994. But when Brown replaced Jordan as mayor, the
liberal-leaning Board of Supervisors declined to implement it.

Now, at a time when pre-election polls show homelessness is voters' top
concern, vouchers have reappeared as a popular plan with politicians. And
that includes the mayor.

Brown recently said he wants to force homeless people on General

Assistance to use a portion of their welfare stipend to rent a room in a
city-owned residential hotel.

Jordan, who is running for mayor again, still believes in his original
plan. Another leading mayoral contender, former political consultant Clint
Reilly, also favors vouchers.

Reilly would offer $100 more a month to recipients who accept their
assistance in the form of vouchers. Those who want cash would receive $287
a month, a little less than they receive now.
*Homeless advocates nix vouchers*

Homeless advocates and some policy analysts oppose voucher plans, calling
them mean-spirited attacks on the poor.

"The bottom line is their assistance would be cut down to about $50 a
month," said Jennifer Friedenbach, a project coordinator with the Coalition
on Homelessness.

Attorney Stephen Bingham, with the National Center for Youth Law, said
Rynerson's timing is off.

"It might be a proposal worth looking at at some point in the future when
this city can truely provide treatment on demand to all people who are
demanding substance abuse counseling and mental health treatment," Bingham

Despite this outcry to reform the GA rolls, San Francisco Human Services
Department resource manager said the caseload is dropping. In September,
9,508 people received assistance, while 11,855 received checks last

The City's GA budget dropped, too, from $39.2 million this year to $45
million last year.

"More people are getting marginal jobs because the economy is booming,"
Frazel explained.

The City reorganized its GA system in July into four programs, three of
which pay $364 a month and rent subsidies to people who sign up for job
training or have a permanent or temporary disability. The last is straight
GA, at $294 a month, with a Workfare requirement.


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
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educational purposes only.**

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