People at a recent gathering in San Francisco’s Bayview District bandied about possible solutions to homelessness, among them a guaranteed income and stronger tenant protections.
But the folks who proffered these ideas weren’t the usual policy wonks, media pundits or tweedy academics who typically and freely espouse their opinions. Rather, they were currently and formerly homeless people at Project Homeless Connect waiting for services at the neighborhood YMCA.
The San Francisco Examiner visited the project’s bimonthly service fair on June 10 as part of multimedia coverage of The City’s homelessness crisis. The paper joined some 70 Bay Area news organizations in an effort to study how this problem persists amid a sea of affluence in one of the world’s leading economies.
Last month, Courtney Martin of the Solutions Journalism Network told The New York Times that people want to read about “how to fix broken systems.”
In that spirit, the Examiner queried about a dozen Project Homeless Connect clients — who are informed by their own life experiences — how that could be accomplished.
Peter, a 59-year-old man who declined to give his last name, was having lunch at the Project Homeless Connect event after seeking legal aid to resolve a problem with his bank. A one-time photographer at National Geographic, Peter also worked as an English teacher while travelling through Asia.
After he was robbed and his bank account drained, Peter went to the Bay Area hoping for his friends’ assistance, but they moved out.
To recover his photographic portfolio and resume his career, Peter set up a profile on HandUp.org. His job history also included stints as a bartender and graphic designer, but finding work is harder now than he ever remembered.
“Getting employment is super difficult,” he said. “I don’t know what’s keeping me from being hired.”
Even if Peter secures employment, the overheated housing market poses another obstacle. A solution to homelessness, he said, is definitely housing-related.
“Simple answer: Rent control,” he said. “It’s beneficial for San Francisco to put a ceiling on this cycle of greed.” Peter also suggested that housing organizations provide assistance for rental deposits, thus maintaining housing stability for renters.
Beth Johnson, 48, was an in-support service worker before she spent two years homeless.
Housed since 2014, she filled out paperwork for the visiting dental clinic at Project Homeless Connect. When asked about possible solutions to homelessness, Johnson noted worldwide economic disparity and suggested a shift in spending priorities.
“It seems to me with all the money on defense, why can’t we spend it all on people who are hungry?” she said.
A universal basic income would keep people in the U.S. housed and fed, she said. Under such a system, government or other public entities would guarantee an unconditional sum of money to its country’s residents, as well as income received elsewhere. Since 2008, basic income initiatives were submitted to governments in Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Also, a recent European Union poll showed that almost two-thirds of EU residents favored such a plan.