As a kid, I lived in the Panhandle neighborhood of San Francisco. Growing up in a broken family, I was in foster care by 8 and entered the juvenile justice system at 13. At age 22, I was homeless and living in a car. I had made peace with a lifestyle of self-medicating, numbing myself to the world until the end of my days. But when my girlfriend, my last social support, sought treatment, I decided to join her. At that time, I had no education, no employment history, serious health issues, and a substance abuse problem.
Despite those challenges, I got an amazing opportunity to change my life because of a few city-funded programs. Things started to turn around when I got treatment for my drug abuse at Walden House and a referral to Larkin Street Youth Services.
At Larkin Street, I got my GED, started temping, and applied for housing. Eventually, I landed a full-time job. I was back on my feet, and even leading a group therapy session myself. My life had hope again, and I had a little confidence for the first time in a long time that I was going to be okay.
Because I want others to have the same opportunities the city gave me, I’ve tried to be part of the solution to the homelessness crisis; serving on the SF Youth Commission, the Larkin Street Youth Advisory Board, and the Youth Policy and Advisory Committee.
I’ve shared my story with officials in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Washington, DC, offering my experience and advocating for the type of programs I know worked for me.
I decided to get more politically involved after being inspired by now Mayor London Breed’s 2016 re-election campaign for Supervisor. I thought that she would help make the city a better place for all who call San Francisco home.
In March of this year, as a candidate for Mayor Breed published “A Bold Approach to Homelessness,” a plan that closely aligns with Prop C. In fact, the money from Prop C would provide essential funding to make her plan a reality because the truth is that we won’t be able to provide the opportunities that I received to the thousands of others in need without a lot more resources.
My personal story is an example that our existing programs do work– treatment, job training, housing– we just need to fund them. The problem isn’t knowing what to do, it’s being able to do more of what we already know works: and the simple fact is that Prop C will get people off the streets.
Every expert will tell you– only housing solves homelessness and we can’t wait to take action while thousands sleep on the streets. I have friends right now who are currently on the city’s 1,000 person-long waitlist for shelter and that’s simply unacceptable. I want them to have the same chances to turn things around that I did.
Sadly, despite the evidence that Prop C would fund programs that we know work – some of our wealthiest corporations are fighting it, suggesting there is no accountability or plan as a way of undermining it. But the accountability is built-in because the Mayor retains 100% of her authority over spending and will remain in charge of all of the funding that Prop C will generate if it passes.
As the Chronicle interviews with homeless people recently pointed out, most of the people on our streets have faced debilitating health issues, heartbreaking loss, health care costs, evictions and terrible bad luck.
I certainly didn’t want to be living in my car at the age of 22. Life can be hard and sometimes the only thing people need is a second (or third) chance to get back on their feet. I know that’s what I needed, and I’m forever thankful for the programs that helped me.
But we need to do more. Prop C provides the city with the funding needed to help thousands of lives with housing, treatment and services paid for by the corporations that can afford to pay. This is the real change that we need, this is the spirit of San Francisco.
Prop C is about more than just funding to address homelessness, it’s about giving people an opportunity for change, an opportunity to turn things around by giving them the housing and services they need. I got that opportunity when I needed it most and I want others to have the same. Please join me in voting Yes on Proposition C.
Zak Franet is a member of the Youth Policy Advisory Committee, which is made up of transitional age youth who have experienced homelessness.