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SF’s inequalities on display during hours-long hearing on Mayor Lee’s $10.1B budget proposal

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San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee presents his budget for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 fiscal year during a special meeting held in the Board of Supervisors chambers at San Francisco City Hall Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s low income residents and providers of social programs called for a greater investment in homeless and other services Monday during a chance for the public to steer millions of dollars in Mayor Ed Lee’s budget proposal toward other priorities.

There were calls for funding for a 24-hour homeless shelter in the Bayview with beds and showers, more supportive housing, subsidized child care services, more food delivery to seniors and increased rental subsidies to prevent homelessness from the residents who testified for five hours at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, each given up to two minutes to speak.

“Clearly there was some appreciation of the mayor’s budget in addressing some of the issues. But I also heard from almost every individual that there are additional needs that we need to look at,” said Supervisor Norman Yee, who serves on the budget committee, which is reviewing the financial proposal. “I think we can do better and we should do better.”

Yee added, “Last week we had an opportunity to look at departments’ budgets. Maybe we should have looked at it a little closer with regards to what could be cut.”

The committee has amassed an estimated $30 million from cuts to the mayor’s two-year budget proposal, based on recommended reductions by the budget analyst, which can be reallocated to other spending priorities.

SEE RELATED: Mayor Lee to unveil $10.1B budget with increased spending to address homelessness, opiate abuse

Like in other years, the amount requested in funding — such as from the Budget Justice Coalition, a group of about 40 nonprofits — far exceeds the amount the committee will be able to repurpose. The process includes negotiations with the Mayor’s Office.

The board’s budget committee, chaired for the first time by Supervisor Malia Cohen, will continue to review the mayor’s budget Wednesday. But Monday was the public’s first and only chance to comment on the budget proposal, when San Francisco’s most pressing needs were spotlighted.

Those asking for more funding underscored how The City spends just 2.7 percent of its budget on homeless services, including on such things as Navigation Centers and supportive housing. The mayor’s budget includes an increase in homeless services, growing from today’s $275 million to $305 million.

“If it wasn’t for supportive housing I don’t know what I would be today. It literally saved my life,” said Stephen Tennis, 68, who resides in the Hartland Hotel in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood he has lived in for the past three decades. Tennis called for increased funding for more supportive housing and staff providing case management.

SEE RELATED: Latest SF homeless count shows slight decrease, larger trend points upward

Sue Horst, director of the San Francisco Senior Center, highlighted the needs among seniors and senior centers. “We are housed in crumbling infrastructure and have limited funding. In our sites we turn away seniors from eating breakfast and lunch as there is not enough funding for meals,” Horst said. “Seniors wait hours for paratransit rides at our centers. We see hundreds of seniors who are recently homeless or need housing.”

Bill Hirsch, director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, providing legal services to people with HIV and AIDS, called on The City to fund more rental subsidies, which can help tenants fend off evictions. “There is nothing that The City can do that is quicker and more cost effective for addressing homelessness,” Hirsch said. “While the mayor did a lot of great things in his budget, this is one area where he fell short.”

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said that while “the mayor made some excellent investments” she and a coalition of homeless service providers were asking for an additional $8.4 million. That would pay for more rental subsidies, a new shelter in the Bayview and a new family emergency shelter with actual beds and showers.

“Our wait list for shelters are longer than they have ever been,” Friedenbach said.

Conditions of longer term housing for formerly homeless was also a concern.

Mel Beetle, from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic-managed Raymond Hotel, complained about the turnover of case managers, who Beetle said often leave because they aren’t paid sufficiently. He also said that SROs, where homeless persons are often placed, need city funding. “There is not enough money right now to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of some of these hotels,” Beetle said.

Mary Kate Bacalao, director of public funding for Larkin Street Youth Services, a nonprofit that works with homeless youth, drove home the point that with increased funding comes results. “Investments work to end youth homelessness,” she said, referring to the the point-in-time homeless count released Friday. “We saw a 13 percent decrease in youth homelessness. That’s accompanied by a 15 percent increase in investment by The City between 2013 and 2017.”

She added, “We know that investments work.”

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