Toying with a worthy SF homeless program

Care Not Cash has been The City’s keystone homeless transition program since 2004 and by any standard a success. It did not take every homeless person off the streets and put them into decent permanent housing, but it has delivered housing for 3,540 at the rate of about 30 per month.

In seven years, the number of homeless receiving County Adult Assistance payments has been reduced 85 percent — from 2,334 down to 360. San Francisco general-assistance recipients get $422 a month, but with Care Not Cash it decreases to $59.

This saves The City at least $1.44 million per year and probably much more, because it makes San Francisco less of a magnet for homeless from lower-paying neighbor counties. If San Francisco’s homeless caseload grew back to what it was before Care Not Cash, costs would rise by some $9 million. This funding would have to be taken away from other homeless services, leaving only about $3.26 million.

So naturally, since Care Not Cash does such a good job, it is under attack. Five supervisors — Ross Mirkarimi, John Avalos, David Campos and Eric Mar plus swing-vote Jane Kim — suddenly put a measure on the November ballot to eliminate shelter beds as a qualified benefit in the program.

This would effectively overturn Care Not Cash. Available homeless funding would flow back into $422 assistance grants. More homeless would arrive from throughout the Bay Area and have an incentive to collect more money by remaining on the streets.

The five supervisors backing this Fair Shelter Initiative claim the referendum is needed for more equality in The City’s shelters. They argue that the current system prioritizes Care Not Cash recipients and prevents other categories of homeless people — including seniors, veterans and the disabled — from having shelter beds.

This argument is blatant nonsense. An average of 100 shelter beds stay vacant each night. Care Not Cash clients have 345 beds reserved, 30 percent of the 1,134 single-adult shelter beds. But these reservations are not held past 4:30 p.m., so nobody is being turned away for lack of shelter beds.

When former Mayor Gavin Newsom spearheaded Care Not Cash in 2004, San Francisco’s professional homeless advocates howled in protest. It is not yet known who else might be behind the five supervisors’ surprise attack, but it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that the old homeless coalition was involved.

As San Francisco Examiner columnist Ken Garcia pointed out Thursday, the reason this measure was “snuck onto the November ballot … without any discussion” was to evade “public outrage.” This newspaper has full confidence The City’s voters will see through the bogus claims and soundly reject a highly suspect initiative that would destroy the proven successes of Care Not Cash.

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