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SF’s windfall funds should be spent to help end homelessness

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A man sits in a four-wheeled walker outside the Subway Restaurant at the corner of Howard and Sixth streets while a man pulls a cart filled with belongings down the sidewalk on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

For the past 30 years, I have dedicated my career to serving the thousands of young people who find themselves living on our city’s streets.

Underserved and under-resourced, San Francisco’s homeless youth currently make close to 20% of the total homeless population, yet are often forgotten during conversations on potential solutions to our city’s ongoing crisis.

One in two homeless individuals in San Francisco first experienced homelessness before they reached the age of 25, and thus ending youth homelessness is a key way to end chronic adult homelessness once and for all. Nonetheless, only six cents of every dollar spent funding homeless services in San Francisco are directed towards young people.

Now more than ever, our City leaders must come together to find creative solutions to this systemic problem. San Francisco’s homeless youth deserve more voices within City Hall advocating on their behalf, demanding change at the highest levels of power.

Our newly elected Board President, President Norman Yee, is one such voice. I have had the distinct pleasure of working with President Yee many times over the years, and have seen his fierce commitment to young people firsthand. Our efforts in 2014 to continue the Children and Youth Fund provided innumerable services and programming to San Francisco families, and his robust legislative history championing universal childcare and early education speaks for itself.

In tandem with Mayor Breed’s unwavering efforts to reduce youth homelessness by 50 percent through the Rising Up Campaign and expand access to youth employment through the Opportunities for All program, I am confident there is now the political will and means to make a tangible difference for young people living on our city’s streets.

Mayor Breed, Board President Yee, and our eager and passionate slate of new members of the Board of Supervisors have been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make good on many of the campaign promises made over the past year. Last November, San Francisco received an unexpected $415 million property tax windfall, $185 million of which will be available to spend to address our city’s most dire crises.

As the members of the Board of Supervisors take their seats at the next Board meeting, there will undoubtedly be extensive and requisite debate over the fate of this windfall money, and indeed our city has a significance of need. However, by choosing to spend the City’s windfall on homeless services and housing initiatives for youth experiencing homelessness, City leaders would show to the people of San Francisco their commitment to ending chronic homelessness for good.

As a member of the public, I believe there are two ways in which we can engage. First, we can contact our elected members and ask as our representatives to both work together on innovative solutions to best use these newfound resources and secondly to ensure that they are utilized specifically on strategies to address chronic homelessness.

We can also exemplify our engagement by volunteering to participate in the Point in Time Count, a HUD-mandated census of the homeless population, taking place on January 24th as these efforts help ensure much-needed state and federal funding to leverage the commitment we are making as a City to solve this problem.

Now is not the time for band-aid approaches. Now is not the time for partisanship, political labels or finger-pointing. Now is the time to come together to provide relief to the most vulnerable, and deliver the people of San Francisco a solution to their topmost priority of ending homelessness on our streets.

Sherilyn Adams is executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services.

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