Mayor champions Care Not Cash in face of criticism

By Bonnie Eslinger

Staff Writer

As Care Not Cash, San Francisco's controversial program for housing the homeless, marks its second anniversary, Mayor Gavin Newsom defended the program as The City's “moral obligation.”

Care Not Cash, which was approved by voters in November 2002, reduces the welfare checks given to single homeless people in exchange for housing or shelter. Under the program, 1,340 homeless people have been put into permanent housing, according to Newsom, who gave the update at a press conference inside a refurbished single-room occupancy hotel in the South of Market area that will now be used to house homeless people.

The event's celebratory nature took a turn when a member of the San Francisco Tour Guide Guild, a professional group of tour guides and members of the travel industry, said Care Not Cash was not eliminating homelessness in The City, but attracting more people to San Francisco's streets.

“The word is spreading in the nation, ‘free housing in San Francisco, come on down,’” Mary McGarvey told Newsom angrily.

“Until the rest of the nation wakes up and does the right thing, I'm proud of what we're doing in San Francisco,” was Newsom's unpolished reply. “The fact is people are suffering, I think we all have a moral obligation to do something.”

McGarvey also charged that police were ignoring crimes that homeless people were committing.

Newsom shot back that he would not utilize the tactics that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took with homeless people in New York City in 1999, when he announced that people on the street who refused shelter would be arrested.

“My goal is not to be Mayor Giuliani and throw people in shelters for seven years in the Bronx, Queens, and Harlem, [and] not in Midtown Manhattan, so everyone can say ‘what a great homeless program,’” Newsom said. “I'm embarrassed by that program, people stuck on cots and mats. We're going to do it with dignity, so people have opportunities for permanency.”

While advocates estimate the number of homeless persons in San Francisco as 8,000 or more, Care Not Cash only serves those homeless persons receiving welfare, which was numbered at 2,497 in May 2004, when the program was first implemented. According to city officials, the number of homeless people receiving welfare has decreased by more than 80 percent in the last two years, although homeless advocates counter that many people are still living on the street, but now with less money.

Wade Randlett, president of SFSOS, a civic advocacy organization that formed around the issue of the homeless, among other concerns, said Newsom's words about being a city open to helping homeless people from other areas were off the mark.

“Care Not Cash was supposed to stop San Francisco from being a magnet for street misbehavior because of the incentive system [cash benefits] in place. If you replace one incentive system with another, you haven't accomplished what you set out to do.”

beslinger@examiner.com

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