Care Not Cash on road to success

Ever since then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom proposed his controversial Care Not Cash initiative, which was passed by city voters in 2002, the homeless advocacy establishment has been incensed over this policy to provide housing and services to certain homeless welfare recipients instead of giving them cash aid to continue living in the streets. And the opposition has never ceased throughout Newsom’s mayoral terms.

But now an in-depth audit by The City’s new city controller, Ben Rosenfield, shows that Care Not Cash has been generally successful in meeting its goals at a reasonable cost. The numbers tell an impressive story. Since 2004, city-funded housing has been obtained for 2,217 formerly homeless people — some one-third of the 6,377 homeless found in San Francisco’s 2007 survey.

Eighty percent of these Care Not Cash recipients were placed in permanent housing within five months, and 90 percent remained housed for at least one year. Program applicants are immediately offered shelter-bed priority and become eligible for available permanent housing and support treatment services within a month. In exchange for receiving $1,212 worth of monthly housing and social services, their direct $332 monthly welfare stipends become $64. Only those participants for whom there is no available shelter beds still get the full payment.

Care Not Cash is targeted at single adult homeless people and seems to be successfully improving their lives with its $14 million in redirected funds. The decrease in welfare rolls since the rollout of Care Not Cash in 2004 is also impressive; it had declined from 2,632 to 642 by the end of 2007, according to the audit.

Mayor Newsom said Wednesday that the audit “substantiates our claims” about the successes of Care Not Cash and “disputes the claims of those that were opposed.” The principle of giving the homeless housing and services instead of merely handing them some cash is something The Examiner can heartily agree with.

Newsom also alleged that the perceived problem of San Francisco homelessness is more “visual” than real, because the majority of panhandlers on the street are not homeless. That is quite a sweeping claim and, while it does appear anecdotally reasonable, we would like to see some polling numbers in support.

Although the controller’s audit was strongly favorable to Care Not Cash, it also pointed out the importance to provide better tracking of the program’s outcomes. The report recommended maintaining case management reports to reveal how clients are faring as they either proceed through the system or drop out.

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