Posts Tagged 'homelessness'

Conditions in Gavin Newsom’s Shelters

San Francisco Mayor and Gubinatorial Candidate Gavin Newsom instituted “Care Not Cash” in 2003, in which General Assistance grants were lowered from as much as $359 per month down to $59 per month plus a promise of housing.  For many homeless people, “housing” has meant shelter beds under inhuman condition.  See  “Is San Francisco’s ‘Care Not Cash’ a Sucess?”

Two San Francisco Gray Panthers spoke recently with a couple about conditions in the shelter.  This is their report, in the form of a letter to the San Francisco Supervisors:

San Francisco Supervisors:

Today, after participating in a protest against cuts to San Francisco’s health and human services budget, I met a remarkable couple. As my fellow protesters and I were disbanding, the couple — I’ll call them Rosa and Richard — urged us to join them at a meeting of the [Homeless] Shelter Monitoring Committee, which was about to take place inside of City Hall. My partner and I took them up on the offer.

During the public comment portion of the Shelter Monitoring Committee meeting, Richard stood up at the podium. He spoke briefly of his efforts at turning his life around as an able-bodied and employable man who, granted, had made some bad decisions at a certain point in his life. He then read aloud to the Committee the text of the mission statement that hangs on the wall at the shelter where he and his wife sleep. The mission statement was replete with such aspirational words and phrases as “compassion,” “integrity,” and “self-determination” – which rang hollow, in Richard’s view, given the punitive and abrasive treatment that he and Rosa routinely receive at the hands of shelter staff.

When the meeting concluded, my partner and I got into a conversation with Rosa and Richard and walked with them for several blocks after leaving City Hall. Our progress was slow because Rosa was limping. Rosa told me, in a manner devoid of self-pity, of the particulars of her situation. For the past four years, she has suffered from a systemic disease impacting her lymph nodes. Pus accumulates in one of her legs, which she keeps wrapped in diapers to absorb the pus and prevent infections from developing due to her chronically open pores. Her foot below the affected leg is discolored from impaired circulation.

Rosa has been told that, in her present condition, should be elevating her leg for fifteen hours a day. As a homeless person, however, this is impractical. She cannot simply sit at the library or in a café for hours on end without arousing suspicion. Nor does she have regular day-time access to any shelter. Rosa has been hospitalized for thirty days or more on twenty-two occasions since her diagnosis — yet, Medicaid refuses to pay for the materials she needs to wrap her leg.

Rosa also spoke of the inadequate and gruel-like food provided to her at the shelter, and the lack of access to a healthy diet she and Richard experience due to limited means and mobility. All of these things she conveyed to me with gripping clarity and without relinquishing her dignity.

The extremity of Rosa’s circumstances would easily crush another person’s spirit and will. It is bad enough to chronically want for the basic needs in life that many of us take for granted. Worse, is to be fated; fated by virtue of belonging to a certain demographic. “The most evil and insidious thing,” Richard commented at one point this morning, “is that all of this is by human design.”

Is San Francisco’s Care-Not-Cash a Success?

SF Gray Panthers Newsletter, June, 2009

Is San Francisco’s Care-Not-Cash a Success?

A May 3 SF Chronicle article on Mayor Newsom’s Care-Not-Cash proclaimed, “SF Making Strides to Solve Homeless Problem. 83 percent reduction in people receiving checks who are homeless.” Our new member was outraged. “Are we to be happy that there has been a 5/6th reduction in money for homeless people? How does this relate to abatement of human suffering? Why does the Chronicle or Newsom feel that it’s a great accomplishment?”

Most General Assistance (GA) recipients got their checks reduced to $65 monthly, but only one in three or four got any kind of housing. And “housing” increasingly means a shelter bed.

The increasingly inadequate number of shelter beds are reserved for those GA recipients because every shelter bed occupied by a GA recipient represents a big savings for the City.

If you don’t qualify for GA, such as being undocumented, or are receiving any other benefits (like most seniors and people with disabilities), you start standing in line at 4 AM to get a bed, and even then you’ll be turned away an average of six times a month.  You’re not allowed to use your bed until 8 PM, so you’re on the street all day. The drop-in center where you can rest or use the bathroom is being closed as part of the budget cuts.

If you get a bed, it’s supposed to be yours for a week, but some are one-night-only beds that belong to other programs but aren’t being used that night for some reason.  So if you’re unlucky enough to be assigned a one-night-only bed, you’re back on the line the next morning at 4 AM hoping you’ll get a week-long bed.

The number of families needing shelters doubled from 2007 to 2008, At the same time, the city has reduced family shelter beds by 20 percent, and the waiting list is now more than four months long — meaning families are waiting for shelter longer than they can actually stay in it.

Around 3 AM on even the coldest of nights, a City water truck makes its rounds through the Tenderloin, hosing down doorways where homeless unable to get a bed are sleeping. And this is what Newsom and the Chronicle call success.

Also see Conditions in Gavin Newsom’s Shelters

SF Supervisors: Don’t make Sleeping While Homeless a crime in 2008!

Coalition On Homelessness, December 20, 2007

SF Supervisors: Don’t make Sleeping While Homeless a crime in 2008!

(See article below by Newsom’s mouthpiece, C. W. Nevius, explaining the issue through his twisted lens.)

Monday, January 7, 10 AM
Meet on City Hall Steps to lobby Supervisors

We are starting a new year folks and on January 8, 2008 is a critical issue that will give us the opportunity to halt the criminalization of  poor folks whose only crime is being too poor to pay the rent!

The Full Board will be voting as to whether to amend the camping and  sleeping code to make it easier to cite people for sleeping.

Supervisor Ammiano has a counter amendment that says they have to offer  housing before they can cite folks (Yes we like this idea!).   This would codify what the Mayor says he is already doing.

The Mayor doesn’t like it, and is pushing through Supervisor Dufty a  counter amendment that would give people the ticket, then have them  prove they were offered services, and if they get any other tickets,  the tickets would stand!

No, no, no, we don’t like that.

Folks are going to jail for trying to some sleep in Frisco.   This is  not the Middle Ages.    Let us stop the madness!

We need you to get on the phone and call,  call,  call, and have your friends  call the following supervisors:

SUP MAXWELL 554-7670

Tell them to reject the Newsom/Dufty amendments and approve the Ammiano  amendment.

Jennifer Friedenbach
Executive Director
Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 346-3740 x 306
fax:  775-5639

To learn more about our work, and to get the latest scoop on the
politics of poverty in SF, go to the Street Sheet blog:

SF Chronicle, November 27, 2007

 Supes tinkering with Newsom’s park camping ordinance

C.W.   Nevius

Nothing is ever simple in San Francisco politics.   Last week, an ordinance introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom to close loopholes inhibiting enforcement of laws against camping in Golden Gate Park came up for a vote before the full Board of Supervisors.   Passage seemed a slam dunk.

Not so fast, Mr.   Mayor.

Advocates for homeless people got the ear of certain members of the board and attempted to turn this into a case of “criminalizing the homeless.” The next thing you know, the very real possibility has been raised that the ordinance may be changed and wind up doing more harm than good.

“Their long-standing strategy is that enforcing laws that are targeted at a single group due to their poverty is wrong,” said Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency.   “I would agree with that.   But we are not targeting the homeless per se.   We are targeting behavior that is harmful to people who use the park.   What we don’t want is to get to a place where we are weakening the current law.”

Anything leading to less enforcement would be counterproductive.   Chronic homelessness, encampments, drug use and vagrancy in the park are hot topics, and nearly everyone – on all sides of the homelessness issue – agrees that no one should be living in the park.   But even so, the mayor’s park measure got bogged down and nearly killed by amendments.

His original ordinance sounded like common sense.   It said that homeless campers couldn’t build an encampment, couldn’t bring in “any device that could be used for cooking,” and extended the no-sleeping-in-the-park hours from 8 p.m.   to 8 a.m.

What’s wrong with that?

“All of us share a common goal,” Rhorer said.   “We want to get them out of the park and into shelter.”

Or, as Supervisor Bevan Dufty put it, “Our city is failing if the park is the housing of last resort.”

Well said.   So, because nearly everyone seemed to be in agreement, it seemed it would just be a matter of talking through a few points, refining a detail or two, and then voting the ordinance in and accepting the thanks of a grateful public.

That’s not how things went.

In just a hint of how difficult it can be to make progress in the face of committed, well-organized opposition, the Homeless Coalition (whose director did not return calls for comment) began to muddy the waters.   Speaking for the advocates, Supervisor Tom Ammiano proposed an amendment.

“I saw it more as tweaking,” Ammiano said Monday.   “I think a lot of it is timing.   Some of the things can be fixed.”

Right.   But the concern is that this will be “fixed” to death.

At one point the proposal stated that before a homeless camper could be cited for a violation, it had to be shown that he or she had been offered services and permanent housing at least five days earlier.

Oh sure, that wouldn’t be hard to enforce.   How, exactly are city workers supposed to verify that they had contacted each homeless person? Maybe they could carry a camera and take a photo of them offering services?

“It would be like someone being pulled over for speeding,” says Rhorer, “and then having to ask them if they’d taken a driver training class in the previous five days.”

In an attempt to save the measure, Dufty introduced another idea.   In his amendment, homeless campers would be cited for violating the rules, but then would be allowed to make the citation go away by accepting a homeless program.   Of course, that wouldn’t mean that a violator couldn’t say he was going to accept services and then drop out after a day or two.

“Right,” said Rhorer, “but that’s what the D.A.   does now.   The person says, ‘I am willing to go into treatment,’ and the district attorney says, ‘Fine, charges are dismissed.’ All this is doing is codifying what is already being done.”

Dufty, a reasonable fellow, says he had some very real concerns about the way the ordinance would work.   For example, he says – and Homeless Outreach Team director Rajesh Parekh agrees – that with the closure the homeless shelter on Otis Street in the Inner Mission there may be a minor shortage of beds and slots in drug and alcohol treatment programs.   Ammiano says his concern is that people may be offered services but then find that they are not available.

He says that was why he started proposing amendments and was just trying to clear up a few things.

“There’s some kinda gray areas,” he said.   “Believe me, the last thing anybody wants is a knock-down, drag-out fight on this.”

So, instead, the ordinance was sent back to committee for more hearings.   Ammiano insisted it is just temporary, and that “it is definitely worth a look see.   It’ll come back to the board.   It is too important not to.”

Sure, but when it does, expect more smoke and mirrors.   Dufty, who wants this to work, knows the drill.

“The discussion got sidetracked because we couldn’t agree on whose responsibility it was to offer them housing before we cite them,” he said.   “A better idea would be for everyone to understand that the parks are for use during the day.”

Now there’s an idea, simple, clear and direct.

So it probably doesn’t have a chance.

New Orleans: Bulldozers for the poor, tax credits for the rich

CounterPunch, December 3, 2007

Christmas Presents for New Orleans, From HUD: Bulldozers for the Poor, Huge Tax Credits for Wealthy Developers


On the 12th day before Christmas, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is planning to unleash teams of bulldozers to demolish thousands of low-income apartments in New Orleans. Despite Katrina causing the worst affordable housing crisis since the Civil War, HUD is spending $762 million in taxpayer funds to tear down over 4600 public housing subsidized apartments and replace them with 744 similarly subsidized units–an 82% reduction. HUD is in charge and a one person HUD employee makes all the local housing authority decisions. HUD took over the local housing authority years ago–all decisions are made in Washington DC. HUD plans to build an additional 1000 market rate and tax credit units–which will still result in a net loss of 2700 apartments to New Orleans–the remaining new apartments will cost an average cost of over $400,000 each!

Affordable housing is at a critical point along the Gulf Coast. Over 50,000 families still living in tiny FEMA trailers are being systematically forced out. Over 90,000 homeowners in Louisiana are still waiting to receive federal recovery funds from the Road Home. In New Orleans, hundreds of the estimated 12,000 homeless have taken up residence in small tents across the street from City Hall and under the I-10.

In Mississippi, poor and working people are being displaced along the coast to allow casinos to expand and develop shipping and other commercial activities. Two dozen ministers criticized the exclusion of renters and low-income homeowners from post-Katrina assistance: “Sadly we must now bear witness to the reality that our Recovery Effort has failed to include a place at the table … for our poor and vulnerable.”

The bulldozers have not torn down any buildings yet and New Orleans public housing residents vow to resist. “If you try to bulldoze our homes, we’re going to fight,” promised resident Sharon Jasper. “There’s going to be a war in New Orleans.”

Resident resistance is being expanded by allies from a coalition of groups who see the destruction of public housing without one for one replacement harming all renters and low-income homeowners.

Kali Akuno, of the Coalition to Stop Demolition, explains why many people who do not live in public housing are joining residents in this fight. “In the past two years, New Orleans has faced a series of social crises that have struck a blow to our collective vision for a more just and equitable city, not simply one that is more inviting to elites. Yet none of these crises has been as uniquely urgent as this. What is at stake with the demolition of public housing in New Orleans is more than just the loss of housing units: it destroys any possibility for affordable housing in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. Without access to affordable housing, thousands of working class New Orleanians will be denied their human right to return.”

A federal court has refused to stop the scheduled demolitions. Residents offered evidence to show the three story garden-style buildings were structurally sound and pointed out that the local housing authority itself documented that it would cost much less to repair and retain the apartments than demolish and reconstruct a small fraction of them. The New York Times architecture critic described them as “low scale, narrow footprint and high quality construction.” HUD promised to subject plans for demolition to 100 days of scrutiny–yet approved demolition with no public input in less than two days. The court acknowledged some questions about the fairness of the process but concluded that if the demolitions turn out to be illegal, residents can always recover money damages later.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that requires one for one replacement of any public housing demolished, but Senator David Vitter (R-La) has stopped the Senate version cold.

The Institute for Southern Studies reports that the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act, S. 1668, sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had the support of the entire state’s delegation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — until September, when HUD and Vitter suddenly withdrew their backing. There’s been much speculation over Vitter’s sudden about-face on the measure, especially since he’s been reluctant to disclose his objections in much detail.

The Congressional Quarterly Weekly offers partisan politics as one explanation for his actions:

“…[P]olitical experts say the senatorial flap is not unexpected, given Louisiana’s rough-and-tumble politics and Vitter and Landrieu’s chilly relationship. Landrieu is up for re-election next year and has emerged as the GOP’s top target among incumbent senators, in part because of the state’s rightward shift in recent elections.

“The fact that Mary Landrieu is widely identified as the most vulnerable Democrat coming into the next election cycle, you certainly don’t want to give her big victories in helping the state,” said Kirby Goidel, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University. “He probably feels safe enough to hold it up as long as it’s not too obviously political and he has some policy-related cover. He’s a pretty hardball political player.”

Republican interests are clearly not served by the return of all African-Americans to New Orleans. Louisiana was described before Katrina as a “pink state”–one that went Democratic some times and Republican others. The tipping point for Louisiana Democrats was the deeply Democratic African American city of New Orleans. Immediately after the hurricanes struck, one political analyst said “the Democratic margin of victory in Louisiana is sleeping in the Astrodome in Houston.” Tiny turnout by African-American voters in New Orleans in recent elections has led white Republican interests to calculate immediate new political gains. Demolition of thousands of low-income African American occupied apartments only helps that political and racial dynamic.

But no one will say openly that African American renters are not welcome. Supporters of the destruction of thousands of apartments have come up with a series of stated reasons for their actions, but it clearly looks like political gain and economic enrichment for contractors, lawyers, architects and political friends are the real reasons.

Reduction of crime was supposed to be the main reason for getting rid of thousands of public housing apartments–yet crime in New Orleans has soared since Katrina while the thousands of apartments remain shut.

Every one of the displaced families who were living in public housing is African-American. Most all are headed by mothers and grandmothers working low-wage jobs or disabled or retired. Thousands of children lived in the neighborhoods. Race and class and gender are an unstated part of every justification for demolition, especially the call for “mixed-income housing.” If the demolitions are allowed to go forward, there will be mixed income housing–but the mix will not include over 80 percent of the people who lived there.

This absolute lack of any realistic affordable alternative is the main reason people want to return to their public housing neighborhoods–or be guaranteed one for one replacement of their homes. Absent that, redevelopment will not help the residents or people in the community who need affordable housing.

HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has his own reasons for pressing ahead with the demolitions. HUD has approved plans to turn over scores of acres of prime public land to private developers for 99 year leases and give hundreds of millions of dollars in direct grants, tax credit subsidies and long-term contracts. One of the developers described it as the biggest tax-credit giveaway in years.

There may be crime in the projects after all–even if the residents are gone. Consider the following examples.

Investigative reporter Edward T. Pound of the National Journal has uncovered many questionable and several potentially criminal actions by HUD in New Orleans. Pound reported that HUD Secretary Jackson worked with, and is owed over $250,000 from an Atlanta-based company, Columbia Residential. Columbia Residential was part of a team that was awarded a $127 million contract by HUD to develop the St. Bernard housing development. Columbia was also awarded other earlier contracts for as yet undisclosed amounts under still undisclosed circumstances.

Pound also discovered that a golfing buddy and social friend of Secretary Jackson was given a no-bid $175 an hour “emergency” contract with HUD within months of Katrina. The buddy, William Hairston, was ultimately paid more than $485,000 for working at HANO over an 18 month period.

A review of the dozens of no-bid contracts approved by HUD in New Orleans shows millions going to politically connected consultants, law firms, architects, and insurance brokers.

What is scheduled to happen in New Orleans is happening across the United States. It is just that New Orleans offers a more condensed and graphic illustration. The federal government is determined to get out of housing all together and let the private market reign. A 2007 report of the Urban Institute confirms that in the last decade over 78,000 low-income apartments have been demolished by HUD.

That is why locals are receiving support and solidarity from residents and housing advocates in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York.

Destruction of housing for the working poor is also a global scandal as corporations and governments push entire neighborhoods out. In India, traditional fishing villages destroyed by the tsunami are being forcibly moved away from the coast and the land where they lived is being converted to luxury hotels and tourist destinations. The International Alliance of Inhabitants, which opposes the demolitions in New Orleans, points out poor people’s neighborhoods are also being taken away in Angola, Hungary, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Poor and working people in New Orleans and across the globe are living on property that has become valuable for corporations. Accommodating governments are pushing the poor away and turning public property to private. HUD is giving private developers hundreds of millions of public dollars, scores of acres of valuable land, and thousands of public apartments. Happy holidays for them for sure.

For the poor, the holidays are scheduled to bring bulldozers. The demolition is poised to start in New Orleans any day now. Attempts at demolition will be met with just resistance. Whether that resistance is successful or not will determine not only the future of the working poor in New Orleans, but of working poor communities nationally and globally. If the U.S. government is allowed to demolish thousands of much-needed affordable apartments of Katrina victims, what chance do others have?

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill is one of the lawyers for displaced residents. You can contact him at



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