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Indybay Feature
Uniformly Unfair
by T.J. Johnston for Street Sheet
Saturday Nov 8th, 2014 12:11 PM
Proposed uniform shelter rules could hurt neediest clients, particularly those unable to care for themselves.
Inability to get out bed in the morning or to use the bathroom might become grounds for expulsion from San Francisco’s homeless shelters if new rules are adopted.

In a community meeting at the Human Services Agency building on Oct. 15, the agency outlined a proposal in which all city-funded shelters would adopt a uniform policy spelling out which offenses would warrant an immediate denial of service — that is, kick clients out summarily — and how long those sanctions would last.

A contingent from the Coalition on Homelessness questioned the punishments — mostly, a denial of service of up to six months or a year — for violations of the 18 proposed rules and especially took exception to a rule that empowers shelters to issue an immediate denial of service to a client who is unable to self-care unless that person can prove otherwise.

The Human Services Agency defines “self-care” as activities related to daily living, such as using the bathroom, getting in and out of bed and eating and dressing by one’s self. Scott Walton, manager of adult services in the agency’s housing and homeless division, said the policy would encourage staff to call 911 for a client unable to self-care and sometimes bring in available nurses or a behavioral health team to respond. Otherwise, the client would be responsible for post-eviction accommodations.

Coalition director Jennifer Friedenbach said the agency is moving in the wrong direction. “As a rule, none of these rules (concerning health code and self-care) should even be a denial of service, as denial of service indicates wrongdoing,” she said. If anything, she added, that should make such clients eligible for admittance to a facility that can care for them.

About 63 percent of the city’s shelter population report some kind of disability, according to the agency’s homeless count from last year. The shelter system currently accommodates 1,150 single adults. With an estimated total population of 6,436, that leaves four out of five people without a roof over their heads.

“We see what happens to people who can’t get care at a shelter,” said Colleen Rivecca, advocacy coordinator of the St. Anthony Foundation. Her organization provides food, health care and other services to homeless and other low-income people. She said she’s concerned about the results of shelters evicting people unable to meet their most basic needs.

Those consequences for seriously disabled homeless people could be severe, said Friedenbach. “Putting someone out onto the street who cannot self-care could very well be a death sentence,” she said. “It is immoral to put people out of a shelter who cannot care for themselves without the city making alternative arrangements.”

The proposal also raises thorny legal issues for disability advocates. Ann Menasche, an attorney with the Berkeley-based organization Disability Rights California, said the proposal could very well violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

“It sounds like, to me, a broad statement like that would be illegal,” she said. “On its face it’s probably discriminatory.”

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