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A chance to really change SF’s homelessness crisis

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Kelly Cutler, human rights organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness, speaks to a homeless resident in a tent. The coalition is working on a November ballot measure that would tax large businesses to provide funding for homelessness and housing. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Cutler)

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I was on my way to the grocery on Monday when I ran into Kelley Cutler and a couple guys in very crisp white robes.

Kelley is the Human Rights Organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness and is one of my favorite people that I’ve met through activism. We’ve been friends since working together on a giant protest against that wack-ass “Super Bowl City” in 2016. Mayor Ed Lee had pushed all the homeless folks out of downtown so that the multibillion dollar NFL could have a party without cameras showing San Francisco’s Dickensian wealth disparity. We brought out thousands of people and got attention from news organizations around the world.

Kelley had just given a homeless woman her card and was telling her about the work the coalition does when I walked up. Pointing to the guys in the robes Kelley said with a grin, “They’re not KKK members, they’re Dominican friars. I’m taking them on outreach with me so they can see what the homelessness crisis is really like.”

Considering I grew up Jewish, I don’t know all many intricacies of the different denominations of Christianity, so Kelley broke it down for me, “The way I think of it is that the Dominican friars are the book nerds and spend all their time inside studying, which is why their robes are clean and white. The Franciscans friars robes are brown because they are on the street getting their hands dirty and getting involved. While it’s not exactly true, it’s close enough.” The goal was to give the friars a sense of what was really happening on the ground and teach them about the causes and solutions to homelessness before they became priests and had congregations of their own.

Partnering with and educating faith leaders is just part of what the Coalition on Homelessness does. Their mission statement reads that “The Coalition on Homelessness organizes homeless people and front line service providers to create permanent solutions to homelessness, while working to protect the human rights of those forced to remain on the streets.” They serve as the street level advocates for San Francisco’s homeless population as well as act as a political force to better their lives. Which is exactly what they are trying to do this November.

The Coalition is currently gathering signatures to get a really impressive measure on the ballot for November’s election. If passed it would put .05% tax on any San Francisco based company that makes over $50 million a year. This would bring in a whopping $340 million, more than doubling the current amount spent on homelessness services and supportive housing. This is brilliant!

According to the coalition, the measure would “house over 4,000 families, youth, and adults; provide intensive mental health and substance abuse services; prevent 7,000 households from homelessness through legal assistance and housing subsidies; and ensure that there are 1,075 new shelter beds and keep our streets clean by funding dignified bathrooms and showers. Many businesses, and particularly the hotel and tourism industry, have an interest in housing people experiencing homelessness— and they would be positively impacted by the passage of this measure, which would dramatically reduce homelessness.”

The Bay Area’s housing crisis was created in part by the explosion of tech. The homelessness crisis is directly related to the housing crisis since, if you’re getting evicted, someone is literally taking your housing away. This measure is a great way to get the companies whose mere existence in the city has created major problems for its residents to do something the fix these problem. And .05% is practically a rounding error for companies like Salesforce, Uber, and Airbnb.

While it’s tempting to chalk this up to some excellent Robin Hood style shit, it’s even better to realize that it’s actually getting these companies to use their massive wealth to help fix what they’ve unintentionally disrupted and do some real good for the world. But don’t expect them to do so willingly.

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a similar bill a few months ago. This bill made it so that multibillion dollar businesses based in Seattle, like Amazon and Starbucks, would be taxed so that the city could use those resources to help fight homelessness and build affordable housing. And Amazon, which paid $0 in federal taxes in 2017 and whose CEO is the richest man in the world, threw a goddamn fit. They even went so far as to halt work on a new high-rise building they were constructing.

The sad news is that the Seattle City Council members caved and have said they plan on repealing the tax.

If you’re as incensed as I am about this you can make sure the Coalition on Homelessness’s measure passes in SF this November.

But it’s gonna take more than just voting! First they gotta get it on the ballot and for this they need signatures. If you’re an SF resident you can stop in to the coalition’s office at 468 Turk St. You can also volunteer to help get signatures. And if you think the work they do is important and you want to help them continue to do it, you can donate money on their website.

If you’re as heartbroken and frustrated by San Francisco’s homelessness situation as I am, you now have an opportunity to help make some real change.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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