One of the frustrations we all have with government is when it moves too slow. We create all these rules and steps, we create hoops for everyone to jump through to do the most basic thing. And too often our solution to a difficult problem is to add more process and layers of bureaucracy. This is what has driven my focus around changing our permitting rules for small businesses, reforming our hiring laws to fill vacancies faster, and removing barriers to building new housing. It’s what was so critical in our COVID response — we were able to get rid of so much of the red tape that slows us down and focus on the mission of saving lives.
In my budget, there are a number of ways we are trying to make government more efficient and effective. One of them is in how we deliver homelessness funding. Specifically, my budget proposes to remove restrictions as part of our work to fund additions in the following areas:
- 600 new shelter beds;
- 545 new permanent housing placements;
- 1,650 new prevention and problem-solving placements to help rapidly re-house individuals who do fall into homelessness.
Meeting these goals, however, requires a change to our local laws that must be approved by eight members of the Board of Supervisors. It requires us to change how we govern so we help people faster, not just to sit on our hands and watch funding go unspent.
If we don’t make these changes, we will leave more people on the street.
How the Law Works
Right now, due to restrictions placed on how we spend dollars collected by our homelessness tax, we are limited in how we can direct funding to specific needs. Specifically, we have money dedicated to housing, and even more, we have money dedicated to housing for specific populations. While this sounds good in theory, it dramatically slows down our homelessness response in practice.
That’s because when we are too restrictive, we cannot adapt to changes or innovate.
For example, Governor Gavin Newsom launched Project Homekey during the pandemic to help local governments buy buildings to house the formerly homeless. This is the kind of support we actively advocate for year after year. And the Governor, to his credit, delivered.
Project Homekey has allowed us to use state money to buy a number of buildings, including buildings dedicated to young people experiencing homelessness. This has been very successful. We’ve added three buildings already with support from Homekey funding, and we are in the process of adding a fourth.
However, where we are struggling is that our local dollars that are, under current law, required to be spent on youth homeless housing ONLY, are sitting unused because we are getting this state funding to deliver our proposed projects. That means taxpayers are getting zero results from these dollars. That’s unacceptable. We need change to put these dollars to work.
What We Can Do
The good news is we can do that. It’s simple. As part of the budget process, the Board of Supervisors can simply say we want to adjust these rules to recognize we have unused housing dollars over here that can be used for other homelessness needs, including shelter.
If the Board, with eight votes, says yes to being flexible on how we spend these dollars, we can open more shelter beds and move people indoors. If they say no, then in our proposed budget they will be cutting:
- 120 shelter beds
- 425 new permanent housing placements
- 1,650prevention and problem-solving placements
What We Are Doing for Homeless Youth and Families
Now some have said that this will hurt youth and family homelessness.
First, the dollars are not getting spent because of this state funding. So if we don’t make this legislative change the local tax dollars will sit unused — they are not attached to any solutions.
Second, and more importantly, we are doing a lot for youth and families in this Budget. This includes:
- Funding three new youth housing sites.
- Continuing operations and services at recently acquired location(s) including 77 units of youth supportive housing.
- Supporting services and 75 Problem Solving slots specifically for Latino youth.
- New funding for a 24/7 youth drop-in center.
- Continued support for youth placed in housing through Emergency Housing Vouchers.
- Continuation of The Rising Up Program focused on housing for Transition Aged youth.
- Continuing operations and services at recently acquired location(s) including.
- 240 units of family supportive housing.
- Funding for 60 new housing subsidies for families.
- A long term commitment to continue operations of the Oasis Family Shelter.
- Support to expand the hours of operation at Buena Vista Horace Mann Family Shelter.
- Continued support for 191 Families placed through Emergency Housing Vouchers.
- Funding for new emergency hotel vouchers for families.
Governing requires us to be solution-oriented and flexible to meet our goals. This is how we can get more people more help immediately. That’s the question we are facing. I am committed to moving these dollars quickly and efficiently to get more people off our streets and indoors somewhere safe, as quickly as possible. When a law prevents us from doing that, we have the power and responsibility to change those laws.
Let’s be the San Francisco that works, not the San Francisco that sits on money and leaves people on the street.