As a Nonprofit organization, we are not supposed to provide contributions or support to a political campaign – so as a Nonprofit organization, we will not do that. But as individuals that happen to work in a Nonprofit serving homelessness, people often ask us our thoughts on the upcoming election, particularly propositions related to homelessness and housing.
There are a few propositions on the San Francisco Ballot this year that are of particular interest to the homeless population, and the one that has come up against a lot of confusion and scrutiny is Proposition Q. Proposition Q would ban encampments on city sidewalks and authorize city officials to remove them 24 hours after offering shelter.
If Prop. Q were to pass, the city could ban encampments within 24 hours of "offering" a person an alternative form of shelter. Proposition Q is unspecific in its definition of “alternative shelter” except for the mention of Navigation Centers, which are temporary-stay facilities designed to accelerate access to long term housing. It remains unclear if the 18-month old program can be sufficiently scaled up.
In theory, this is a nice idea, however the reality of this succeeding in getting more people into safe and secure shelters does not add up. There are 6,700 people experiencing homelessness in the city of San Francisco as of 2015 and a total of 1,203 beds. At this time, 875 people are currently on the waitlist for longer-term shelter. To put that into perspective… for every 100 people, there are 35 beds. Compare this to New York City, which has 95 beds for every 100 people.
An additional concern for those of us, which I believe to be all of us, who care about the wellbeing of other people is that this person ends up losing all of their belongings, they cannot often bring large/many into emergency housing. Imagine having so little, and then losing what you have left.
An additional reason to not forcefully remove encampments, and one that is incredibly controversial, is the community that is built within people experiencing homelessness. Many people find a level of security in homeless encampments. One person shared, “This is my second week in this tent, it’s better to be here than laying alone on the street or sidewalk. Everybody looks out for everybody."
Finally - there is the concern that the core purpose behind Prop Q is not about supporting those experiencing homelessness, but instead making San Francisco more pleasant for those who are not homeless and their businesses. The advocates of Prop Q are the same people that were in favor of the "Sit, Lie" ordinance in 2010, including billionaires such as Michael Moritz and Ron Conway. By making homelessness less visible to the city, some of us worry that people in the city will stop trying to find and support real solutions.
Some of you may be wondering, didn’t we try this already? Yes! Last winter, the city’s attempt to clear encampments on Division Street resulted in tents springing up days after and blocks away. With no clear exits to long term housing, the encampment residents were forced to pick up and move, but were not able to find permanent shelters or safe places to stay as alternatives.
As you worry about what it means to vote on Proposition Q – please remember that no one wants anyone to have to live in a tent. We want for everyone a home, a bed, a safe place to sleep with cover, and plumbing.
The simple and only real solution to homelessness – HOUSING.
As an aside - It can be challenging for a person without an address or identification to vote, but not impossible! People experiencing homelessness can vote, and we want to thank all of the wonderful organizations and volunteers that are helping people register!