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Position Paper: Opposing Prop N (Care not Cash)
by Religious Witness with Homeless People (RelWitHome [at] aol.com)
Wednesday Oct 9th, 2002 2:50 PM
Religious Witness urges SF voters to reject Prop N on moral and poltical grounds.
Widely proclaimed as a "compassionate solution," Prop N exploits the profound desire for solutions to homelessness in the heart of every San Franciscan. The leadership of Religious Witness with Homeless People has thoroughly studied Prop N and consulted with experts in the field. We have concluded that Prop N is neither compassionate nor a solution.

Prop N is based on the media-promoted stereotypical image of all homeless people as alcoholics or drug addicts who abuse taxpayers' money. The truth is about 60 per cent do NOT have substance abuse issues. Like all stereotypes, this one appeals to our worst side, the side that hudges, condemns and rejects our sisters and brothers who have no homes.

Significantly, the Department of Public Health reports that every day in our city 1000 to 1400 people are on a waiting list for treatment. These people are still addicted because of the inadequate number of treatment slots. Furthermore, depending on the type of treatment sought, many individuals must wait up to twelve months for help.

The city's neglect in producing truly affordable housing over the years, even in the years when the budget surplus exceeded $100 million, has resulted in our current crisis in housing and homelessness.
We believe it is morally wrong to force the burden of "fixing" these crises on the backs of the very poorest members of our community. Prop N would do precisely that.

Through slick ads on TV, radio, huge billboards, mass phone calls, etc., Supervisor Gavin Newsom (Prop N's author) and the restaurant and hotel industry promote Prop N as an effective solution to homelessness. The truth is that Prop N will deduct all but "up to" $59 monthly from the very poorest members of our community and sink it into a program that offers no hope of alleviating San Francisco's homeless crisis. Prop N is fraught with promises and loopholes but holds no guarantees for housing and services.

PROP N DOES NOT GUARANTEE HOUSING

Given the current crisis in housing, it seems a stretch of the imagination that the city can quickly come up with "real" housing units for the 2700 GA recipients.

A clue to the possible direction of the city in providing housing lies in Prop N's definition of "housing," which includes a cot or a two-inch mat on the floor of a crowded shelter. It is more likely that the city will simply focus on providing more of these shelter cots or mats as the fastest and cheapest way of satisfying the promises of Prop N for "housing."

Shelters are not a solution to homelessness. There is unanimous agreement among homeless people, advocates, service providers and other professionals that exiting homelessness requires stable housing with supportive services, addiction treatment, adequate mental and physical health care and jobs.

PROP N ALLOWS FOR DIVERSION OF CASH-DEDUCTED "SAVINGS" FROM HOUSING AND SERVICES

Prop N specifically allows the city to divert the cash-deducted "savings" from many areas, including the administration of the system: "The funding MAY be used to support, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, SOME OR ALL of the following: hotel master lease programs, permanent supportive housing, improvement of conditions in existing shelters, expansion of shelter capacity, mental health and substance abuse treatment, outreach, a fund for rental deposits, SSI advocacy programs, rep-payee services, case management and meals for the homeless population through direct services and/or contracts." (Emphasis added.)

In fact, the majority of the estimated $6-9 million yearly "savings" could simply be used on administration and personnel and not on actual services.

PROP N MAKES VOUCHERS FOR HOUSING AND MEALS AVAILABLE.

From the beginning, the complexities and costliness of the voucher system equal added frustration and significant suffering for the homeless recipient.

Vouchers would mean increased administrative costs to business people, a potential avalanche of city forms, even possible liability issues. Thus it seems unlikely that a sufficient number of landlords and eating establishments would participate in the voucher system, thereby making it more difficult for the homeless people to use them.

In addition, Prop N vouchers would not cover items like laundry soap, toothpaste, socks, aspirin, haircuts, telephone calls, etc. All such necessary items would have to be paid for by the homeless person from the meager "up to" $59 a month GA cash grant.

GA RECIPIENTS ALREADY WORK FOR THAT MONEY.

The individuals who receive GA are already required to be in a job training/seeking program. They are WORKERS who clean buses and streetcars, remove trash from parks, and sweep streets. They work for 8 hours a week (32 hours a month) as assigned by the city and are "paid" $10 an hour in their $320 GA stipend.

It is unclear if recipients will be required to work these same hours for the $59 they would receive in cash. If so, they would only be "guaranteed" $1.84 per hour.

RELIGIOUS WITNESS WITH HOMELESS PEOPLE URGES REJECTION OF PROP N.

Prop N is clearly not a solution to San Francisco's crisis in homelessness. Furthermore, experts warn that the implementation of Prop N would require far more of the city's money than the estimated $6-9 million withheld yearly from GA recipients, perhaps 3-4 times as much. Shall San Francisco embark upon a road which focuses a vast portion of our money, time, energy and trust in a policy based on a stereotype and with no guarantees?

In 1993, our elected officials set our city on just such a road. We remember all too well the great confidence with which this city adopted a "police-approach" policy (Matrix) as a major response to homelessness. After nine years and over 135,000 citations or arrests of poor and homeless people for so-called "quality of life" violations, homelessness is of an even greater magnitude than ever in this city. Multi-millions of taxpayers' money were squandered on that futile and inhumane approach.

WE ARE CONVINCED THAT PROP N WOULD SET US ON JUST SUCH A ROAD ONCE AGAIN. SAN FRANCISCO VOTERS SHOULD REJECT PROP N.