Mayoral candidates address needs of seniors, disabled

San Francisco mayoral contenders weighed in Thursday morning on issues facing the 169,189 residents ages 60 or over and the 33,463 adults between the ages 18 and 59 living with a disability.

The hour-and-half town hall forum at the Herbst Theater hosted by the Dignity Fund Coalition, a collection of 40 nonprofits providing services to seniors and the disabled, invited four of the eight mayoral contenders, those consistently polling in excess of six percent, to participate — Angela Alioto, London Breed, Jane Kim and Mark Leno.

The discussion covered topics including how to make services affordable to those who may not qualify for benefits like Medi-Cal and how to improve homecare jobs. Candidates also weighed in on a state bill to expand conservatorships for chronically homeless and discussed employment and pedestrian safety.

Breed, who is president of the Board of Supervisors, said she would assemble a task force to “develop something long-term” to recommend administrative changes and ensure there is adequate city funding for subsidies to plug the gap for those who do not qualify for Medi-Cal.

Leno, a former state senator, noted that 50 percent of seniors and up to 70 percent of those with disabilities are living on less than $35,000 a year. “Now that may not be low enough to qualify for Medi-Cal and so this is the upper-poor that we are talking about,” Leno said.

He pointed to the Support at Home pilot private-public program between the Adult and Aging Services city department and the Institute on Aging serving this population. “I would suggest that we make sure through public or private funding we make that pilot project permanent so that this population is no longer overlooked,” Leno said.

Kim, the District 6 supervisor, said one solution is to create a more robust in-home supportive services program with better wages. “We need to actually dedicate real revenue to funding these services. I would like to increase funding to pay IHSS workers and make them living wage jobs.”

She added, “We are going to see jobs go away, but jobs that include care of children, our seniors and homecare — these jobs are not going to get automated away so we should make them real living wage, middle-class jobs so we can support our senior community.”

Leno said The City needs to focus on “career ladders” for homecare workers “so that there is advancement in the work and there can be a career path” and suggested other benefits like free Muni.

Breed said that “our healthcare workers deserve to be paid a lot more than they are getting paid.”

She pointed to a pending proposal, which was introduced by Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and co-sponsored by Kim, before the board to increase their minimum pay from the $15 on July 1 to $16.86. “We need to come up with a long-term plan to gradually increase those wages so that they are decent, middle-income wages,” Breed said.

Alioto said The City needs to create affordable housing specifically for healthcare workers. “They don’t have a place to live. We need to specifically get housing for healthcare workers so that they are not traveling for an hour to get to where they have to go,” Alioto said.

Candidates were asked if they supported state Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 1045, which would allow San Francisco to expand conservatorships to those who are chronically homeless and suffering from mental illness and substance use, forcing them to accept services. About 11 percent of the homeless population is 61 years or older, according to a survey conducted as part of last year’s homeless count.

“I am absolutely opposed to this,” Alioto said. She added, “You need your specific health care. You don’t need to literally lose all of your freedoms.”

Breed is a strong supporter of the senate bill. “This is about getting people who we all see every single day struggling on our streets the help and support that they need, rather than to leave them out there to die,” Breed said.

Kim and and Leno said that The City needs to focus on expanding capacity for those in need of mental health services.

“We must heavily expand our medical respite beds and our treatment beds in our hospitals,” Kim said. She added that she helped expand to 75 beds a medical respite shelter in the SOMA staffed by nurses and psychologists where police or homeless outreach teams can bring those in need. “These 75 beds are simply not enough. We need to greatly expand this program,” she said.

Leno said, “We, The City, have cut mental health beds at San Francisco General [Hospital.] Sutter has cut mental health beds. And how is it possible that this enormous new hospital [Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center] on Geary on Van Ness does not have a single additional mental health bed? And then we wonder why we have a crisis on our streets.”

All four candidates spoke about the need to work better with the booming tech industry and other sectors to place seniors and the disabled into those jobs.

Alioto said she would “sit down and talk with tech industry and work on a deal with them where they employ the elderly and the disabled.”

Breed spoke of the importance of holding job fairs in places where low-income seniors come for meals. “We have to make sure that we hold these companies accountable to connect the dots to our senior and disabled community,” Breed said, noting that jobs exist for them in nonprofits, healthcare and tech.

Kim led the effort to make City College free this year and said that was the perfect opportunity to create a pathway to employment “We need to develop a better infrastructure within City College and our workforce development training program for our seniors and connect them directly to the jobs that we are creating here … so that we can more evenly distribute the wealth and prosperity.”

Leno also said that “through outreach and further job training, we can place seniors and those with disabilities into the new jobs that are created today.”

Pedestrian safety is among the top concerns of this segment of San Francisco’s population. In 2017, half of the 14 pedestrian deaths were seniors, according to a Vision Zero SF report.

Leno said, “I think it is as simple as three e’s: educate, enforce and engineer.” He supported a state bill that would allow for speed enforcement cameras. Kim also supported cameras and spoke of her own efforts in the district to improve safety on streets, such as removing parked cars by the crosswalks in the Tenderloin for better visibility.

Alioto wanted to see a crackdown on drivers who are texting. Breed said more speeding enforcement was vital. “We really need to make sure that there are consequences for fast driving,” Breed said. “You hardly see anyone in this city who is speeding ever getting a ticket. We need to change that.”

Election day is June 5.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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