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Advocates submit signatures for big business tax to fund homelessness solutions

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Advocates celebrate the submission of signatures for an initiative that would fund efforts to address homelessness with a tax on large businesses. (Ian Williams/S.F. Examiner)

Advocates for a new initiative to fund homelessness solutions by taxing big business submitted thousands of signatures to put the measure on the November ballot at San Francisco City Hall Monday.

The initiative, Our City, Our Home, would place an average 0.5 percent gross receipts tax on businesses that gross more than $50 million annually. If it passes in November, the measure will direct $300 million toward permanent housing, shelter and mental health services, among other initiatives.

Following a signature-gathering push involving more than 500 volunteers, the campaign submitted 28,000 signatures to the elections office to place the measure on the upcoming November ballot, well over the 10,000 needed to qualify.

Homelessness has touched many in San Francisco, even some of its biggest names, including AIDS activist Cleve Jones. Jones, 63, arrived in San Francisco when he was a young man after moving from Phoenix.

“I ended up homeless in the Tenderloin, over on Polk Street, but I was lucky,” he said. Jones met and was supported by leaders of the LGBT movement, such as Harvey Milk. Although no longer homeless, the experience is not far from his mind.

“I’m living in the city I love, the city I first fell in love with,” Jones said on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. “But I’m hanging on by one rent-controlled thread.”

The measure has allotted 50 percent of its funds, or $150 million, to address the existing homeless population, primarily through operating and subsidizing 4,000 units of housing. A quarter of the funds will be devoted to supporting The City’s mental health and substance abuse system. The rest will go toward preventing homelessness, cleaning streets and eliminating the shelter wait list by paying for more than 1,000 new shelter and navigation center beds.

More than 500 volunteers came out to gather signatures for the initiative over the last two months, according to Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. Eight thousand of those signatures, she said, were gathered just last week.

According to Brian Basinger, executive director of the Q Foundation, the public has staunchly supported the measure. However the Chamber of Commerce has not.

“Everybody wants to do something about homelessness, about cleanliness, about drug use,” Basinger said. “But they all want somebody else to pay for it.”

The measure, which would cull $5 of every $1,000 from San Francisco’s biggest businesses, is, according to Basinger, The City’s best chance at putting a dent in its most conspicuous issue.

Now that the signatures have been submitted, the San Francisco Department of Elections will verify each signature before it can be placed on the November ballot. The results, Basinger said, should be announced next week.

Advocates submitted 28,000 signatures in support of a November ballot measure to fund homelessness efforts. (Ian Williams/S.F. Examiner)

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