When it comes to homelessness, local politicians are realizing local solutions aren’t enough, and are calling in the big dogs in state and federal government.
End the lawmaking gridlock. Free the funds. Take a stand, and lead on solving homelessness.
To that end, Supervisor Jane Kim will introduce a resolution at the Board of Supervisors today urging California government to declare a statewide emergency for homelessness.
It would also task San Francisco and California government to identify surplus public property for emergency and short-term homeless shelters, in the style of San Francisco’s navigation centers.
The call to action comes as more than 7,500 homeless in San Francisco recently weathered El Niño-affected storms. But data from Kim’s office says 21 percent of the United States’ homeless in 2015 are in California — clearly painting this as a state issue.
Though many are quick to bemoan resolutions by our supervisors, who take stands on far-flung wars or near-term policies, this one actually makes sense. Homelessness is not exclusively a local issue.
Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, laid out the extent of the problem for On Guard.
“It’s seriously a state problem, and a national problem,” he said. Years of cuts to federal housing funds, to state redevelopment funds, to state mental health services and more chipped away at services to keep people housed.
The end result, Boden said, is “cities are caught in the middle.”
Cities can mitigate some of the problems. Kim will also ask for a budget supplemental for the Department of Public Works, so they can add six additional “pit stops” with bathrooms, needle disposal and dog waste stations for the homeless.
She’ll ask for $214,260 for this fiscal year to add them citywide.
Kim has some of the supervisors lined up for support already, she said. But still, it’s unclear how her state Senate opponent, Supervisor Scott Wiener, will come down on calling for a state of emergency (or the budget supplemental).
Will he divorce this issue from their senate race, and support her call for action? It may be a way for Wiener to deflect progressive critics, who frequently call him out for his homeless policies.
In 2013, he authored legislation to strengthen laws against being in public parks at night — largely seen as targeting the homeless, though he denied this — and also backed the effort to get rid of a recycling center used by the homeless from a Safeway in the Castro district.
Other politicians from the so-called “moderate” camp are joining the call to ask for higher levels of government to be accountable on homelessness. Even Mayor Ed Lee, who this column has long criticized, showed leadership in signing a letter last week with the West Coast Alliance of Mayors calling for federal government to boost spending on housing by $450 million.
Data compiled by Boden’s group, WRAP, alleges that in the Carter and Reagan eras, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development saw its budget authority cut by 77 percent. At the same time, state mental hospitals were closed, creating a double whammy.
Boden didn’t split hairs, saying, “There is no recognition on the federal level, or the state level, that what we’re experiencing is directly attributable to the policies [they] made.”
That’s money that used to go into public housing nationwide. How can cities possibly overcome such an immense spending deficit?
They can’t. Not alone, anyway.
Mayor Ed Lee deserves some praise for signing the letter to the federal government to boost housing funds. But it doesn’t “sweep away” his office’s efforts to clear away Division Street. And it means bupkis if Lee doesn’t also use his Democratic party pull to back Supervisor Kim’s resolution for statewide support.
And, Boden said, none of it is a cure-all.
“Ultimately I want them to represent everyone in this city,” he said, “To say the people in my community are important enough to fight for at the federal and state level. Because if the mayor doesn’t fight, what hope do we have?”
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at email@example.com.