PUBLIC PRESS ISSUE 15
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The Elusive Promise of Homes for the Homeless
SUPPORTIVE HOUSING IN SHORT SUPPLY New initiatives could speed up placements PAGE B1
EVICTIONS HIT FORMERLY HOMELESS IN SUBSIDIZED UNITS HARDER THAN THEY DO AVERAGE RENTERS. A LOCAL REFORM COULD HELP WITH MEDIATION. PAGE B1 WITH GROWING NEED FOR TREATMENT, SAN FRANCISCO JAIL LOOKS INCREASINGLY LIKE PSYCHIATRIC INSTITUTION, SAYS SHERIFF MIRKARIMI. PAGE B2
10 YEARS ON, ‘HOUSING FIRST’ MISSES MANY Thousands wait in shelters and on street for a chance at recovery
fter a decade of ambitious reforms and hundreds of millions of dollars spent trying to rid San Francisco of homelessness, the problem seems as knotty, gritty and intractable as ever. What more can be said about the issue? Lots. We learned a great deal about how the offer of basic accommodations — what is called in the social service sector “housing first” — might disrupt the cycle of poverty, mental illness and addiction. While the theory was sound, San Francisco’s homeless population turned out to be a moving target. Inequality increased dramatically across the city. Rents rose, squeezing those at the bottom of the housing market the hardest. At the culmination of the “10-Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness,” the city has built nearly 3,000 units of affordable, subsidized supportive housing. But the evidence on the street is that there are many more waiting than offered spaces each year.
Reporter Angela Hart interviewed city officials, social service workers and people transitioning from living on the streets to homes. She found that two large agencies — the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Agency — still have work to do to coordinate their offerings and get supportive services to the right people. Reforms to the triage system could give those waiting for a room at least an idea of when they might get off the streets or out of a shelter. But even the politicians who set the city down the housing-first path recognize that not enough money has been reserved to match the rising demand for supportive housing. This special report, supported in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, also delves into the reasons why housing is beneficial to mental health, and why the San Francisco jail has become the city’s psychiatric institution of last resort.
STORIES START ON PAGE B1
TRAUMATIZED BY THE STREETS
Graphic artist Dan Archer tells 2 true stories of search for stability PAGE B8
HOMELESSNESS HARMS MENTAL HEALTH
New research shows dangers of vulnerability, disrupted sleep PAGE B3
EXPLAINER: HOW HOMELESS GET HOUSED Two departments run parallel systems PAGES B4-B5 WITH PROPOSED STATE REFORM TO REDUCE SOME FELONY SENTENCES, BEHAVIORAL HEALTH COURT COULD GAIN FUNDING, CLOUT. PAGE B2 COURT GIVES ONE WOMAN SECOND CHANCE AFTER VIOLENT ACT. PAGE B2 QUICKER SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS FOR SOME WITH MENTAL ILLNESS. PAGE B3 IN THE MISSION DISTRICT AND POTRERO HILL, RESIDENTS ASK POLICE AND POLITICIANS FOR RESPONSE TO INCREASE IN HOMELESS ENCAMPMENTS. PAGE B7 THOUGHTS ON HOMELESSNESS FROM SAN FRANCISCO DECISION-MAKERS: ED LEE, GAVIN NEWSOM, ANGELA ALIOTO AND MORE. PAGES B2-B3
MORE ONLINE: SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG/HOMELESSNESS
MORE QUAKE RETROFITS NEEDED
City’s building survey off by 60% PAGE A4
CHINESE WANT HOUSING JUSTICE
Immigrants fighting rising rents PAGE A5 FUTURE OF SUTRO FOREST IN DOUBT AS TREES AGE. PAGE A6 SHELTER FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH AIDS, HIV WILL REOPEN. PAGE A6
TALK OF DENSITY INCREASE IRKS WESTERN AREA RESIDENTS Selectively rezoning along commercial corridors could add 7,000 apartments PAGE A3
AS HIGH-TECH BOOM REMAKES MID-MARKET AREA, HIRING OF NEIGHBORHOOD WORKERS FALLS SHORT OF PROMISES. PAGE A7 NEIGHBORS CONVERGE ON MISSION DISTRICT TO LEARN WHY CHILDREN ARE FALLING BEHIND AT SCHOOL. PAGE A7 ARTISTS GATHER TO CRITIQUE GENTRIFICATION WITH ART. PAGE A8 WHY RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS — INTERVIEW WITH UC BERKELEY RESEARCHER KEN JACOBS. PAGE A8
LANDLORDS, RENTERS COULD BE PARTNERS IN CRIME Rise in short-term rentals are exacerbating San Francisco’s affordable housing crisis PAGE A5
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A2 | SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG | SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS, FALL 2014
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS
FROM THE EDITORS
Long Live the San Francisco Bay Guardian
e at the San Francisco Public Press were horrified to learn a week before our fall print deadline that the San Francisco Bay Guardian had suddenly been shuttered by its parent corporation, San Francisco Media Co., which also owns the San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly. We hope that our now-laid-off friends in the editorial department — editors, reporters, arts writers, graphic designers, photographers and digital staff — will be able to continue publishing in some form, either in a new print publication by the same name or a new digital media outlet offering coverage from the staff. We are also looking forward to seeing a collection of retrospective material in
an upcoming special edition, which would say better than we ever could what the Bay Guardian has meant to San Francisco. The Public Press does not make endorsements or editorialize; the Bay Guardian, by contrast, was a selfdescribed “radical” political publication. Both approaches are needed. The Bay Guardian won countless awards over the years for its fearless investigative reporting. We hope that the community finds a way to support the Bay Guardian’s legacy to preserve the diversity of voices in local journalism.
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The mission of the San Francisco Public Press is to enrich the civic life of San Francisco by delivering public-interest journalism through print and interactive media not supported by advertising.
Fall 2014 • Issue 15 (Vol. 5, No. 3) Published Oct. 22, 2014
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Erika Rae Langdon
Public Press Wins Local Journalism Award
PRINT EDITION EDITOR
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
n October, the San Francisco Public Press won a 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for “Public Schools, Private Money,” an in-depth look at inequality in fundraising among schools in the San Francisco Unified School District. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter recognized the special reporting project in the Winter 2014 edition for the best explanatory journalism in the small print publication category. Lead writer Jeremy Adam Smith and colleagues scoured hundreds of pages of tax and school district records. They found that after years of deep local and state education budget cuts, a few were weathering the storm with the help of private donations to parent-teacher associations. Just 10 out of 71 elementary schools earned half the total dollars raised, all
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at schools where the wealthiest families in the district were concentrated. The reporters interviewed education leaders about several solutions, including new state funding, local equity dollars and pooled parent-teacher association funds to benefit disadvantaged students. The reporting team included researchers Jeffrey Thorsby, Jason Winshell, Adriel Taquechel and Shinwha Whang; reporters Emilie Raguso and Justin Slaughter; graphic designer Tom Guffey; and photographers Tearsa Joy Hammock and Luke Thomas. The Excellence in Journalism Awards dinner takes place on Nov. 12. For more information visit spjnorcal.org.
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A Crossword Puzzle by Andrea Carla Michaels and Victor Flemming (SOLUTION ON B7)
ACROSS 1. Stork’s delivery 5. Put away 9. Seized vehicles, for short 14. Bread spread 15. Spinning sound 16. Yemeni neighbor 17. Maker of Regenerist skin products 18. One, in Bonn 19. TV’s Uncle Miltie 20. 2012 American action thriller war film directed by Kathryn Bigelow 23. Abolish 24. Tax org. 25. Slammer 26. ‘Kwon do’ or ‘Bo’ lead-in 28. Smelly magazine insert 32. Like Gen. Colin Powell: Abbr. 33. Race segment 34. “... ___a man with seven wives” 35. On the move 38. Young’un 39. Agitated states 40. Speaker’s platform 41. Mod ending? 42. Sault ___ Marie 43. Products for smokers 47. Asner and Begley 48. One ___ customer 49. ___ Lingus (Irish carrier) 50. Curved path 53. Bupkis, or a hint to the starts of 20A, 28A, 43A 57. What you’d see at the Metreon or AMC Theatres 58. Mardi___ 59. Bone below the elbow 60. Take the wheel 61. Como or Maggiore 62. Marshy areas 63. Dictionary entries 64. Jet-black 65. God of war DOWN 1. Hooch 2. “Blue Jasmine” director Woody
3. Goatees, e.g. 4. Ninny 5. Call somebody a “@$%*!” 6. Feel the need to drink 7. Squealing pig sound 8. Miserable 9. Early birds 10. Part of EMS: Abbr. 11. Working half a shift, perhaps 12. Just two or three 13. “’Sprechen ___ Deutsch?’” 21. More desperate 22. Put up, as a painting 27. Baby salamanders 29. Fresh, in a way 30. Jail door sound 31. TNT ingredient
35. Carpenter’s tool 36. Turned down 37. Upsets the apple cart 38. Isosceles, for one 39. Metric measure 41. “The Time Machine” creature 42. Second wife’s boy 44. Not these or those 45. Gives it a shot 46. Mariner 51. Chain of mountains 52. Reunion group 54. Neck and neck 55. Seize 56. Castro’s country 57. Family therapist’s deg.
ON THE COVER: Homeless graphics by Patrick Sean Gibson // @patrickseangibson; church photo by Angela Hart // Public Press; graphic novel preview by Dan Archer // graphicvoices.com; homeless in pews photo by Anna Vignet // Public Press; map by Erika Rae Langdon // Public Press; eviction photo by Zlutnik // KALW Crosscurrents
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS, FALL 2014 | SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG | A3
CONTINUED FROM SUMMER EDITION SPECIAL REPORT: AFFORDABLE HOUSING SOLUTIONS
Solution: Increase Density in Western Neighborhoods and Fix Transit Planning Department official says rezoning transit corridors could add 7,000 apartment units
WHERE THE SUNSET DISTRICT COULD GROW LINCOLN WAY IRVING
By Evelyn Wang // Public Press
or nearly four decades, residents of the western half of San Francisco have succeeded in blocking any local zoning changes, saying that adding higher-density and affordable housing options would harm the neighborhoods’ residential character. But as rental prices skyrocket, the city could add thousands of new apartments without increasing parking problems by carefully tweaking housing regulations in the west — an area largely untouched by the recent construction boom. Joshua Switzky, the acting director of the citywide planning division of the San Francisco Planning Department, said that rezoning along a few key transit corridors in the Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods could add roughly 7,000 new apartment units. To do this, a few key commercial streets served by public transportation would need to be rezoned to increase the housing density by 25 to 30 percent. He emphasized that these estimates are based on his planning experience and not on any formal analysis. Even under existing building height and density limits, the west side could fit approximately 5,500 additional housing units near Muni lines and retail districts, Switzky said. This estimate excludes the planned developments around Parkmerced and San Francisco State University. If the Planning Department rezoned the west side to remove existing density limits, developers could build four or five units per lot, instead of the current limit of three. That would require changing some areas from the Neighborhood Commercial District designation to, for example, Neighborhood Commercial Transit District. But in a part of the city that is ferociously against changes that would bring newcomers or exacerbate parking shortages, rezoning is easier said than done. The last time a city official proposed denser residential development along busy transit corridors, the idea was nixed. Amit Ghosh, then the city’s chief planner, drafted a citywide plan for the 2004 Housing Element that would have increased density and removed parking along many major commercial strips well served by public transit. The backlash was overwhelming. Neighborhood groups threatened legal action, and then-mayoral candidate Gavin Newsom promised to replace the leadership at the Planning Department and rewrite the whole plan. Opponents said the city should have performed an environmental impact report and sought their participation. It became clear that before city planners could even contemplate altering the west side, they would need widespread support from the people who lived there. Rezoning the western neighborhoods would require dramatically improving transit, city officials and neighbors say. That requires analysis of each corridor in a cohesive western neighborhoods area plan that addresses concerns about neighborhood character and displacement because of rapidly rising rents and evictions in the neighborhood. AnMarie Rodgers, a senior policy adviser at the
San Francisco’s eastern neighborhoods are in the middle of a construction boom — but in the west, residents have successfully fought against denser housing, citing concerns over inadequate public transportation and the need to preserve neighborhood character. But if certain building regulations did shift, it could yield about 7,000 new homes. Many of those would be priced below the market rate for renters without the cash for a luxury apartment, thousands of which are rising in the city’s downtown area. This map shows where about 1,000 of 5,500 new homes could be built under existing laws, along transit corridors on the west side (in red, along Taraval, Noriega and Irving streets).
KEY Invest in Neighborhood Corridor Underdeveloped property (blue) vacant (red) Illustration by Erika Rae Langdon // Public Press, and Stamen Maps // Creative Commons
Planning Department, said the Market and Octavia plan in the Western Addition succeeded in increasing density and height limits because the old zoning no longer fit the neighborhood. Community involvement produced changes that “basically kept the neighborhood the same,” she said. “When we talk about changing the character of a neighborhood, we have to talk about how the change will serve those who live there,” Rodgers wrote in an email. CHARGES OF NIMBYISM The Sunset and Richmond districts have resisted change more than many other areas of San Francisco. Zoning in the eastern neighborhoods, by contrast, has changed two or three times in the last 15 years. Paavo Monkkonen, an assistant professor of urban affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles,
said efforts to keep out newcomers, especially renters, are economically motivated. “Cities want to keep prices high because homeowners are the people who vote, and they want their houses to be expensive, and that’s their big asset,” Monkkonen said. William Fischel, an economist at Dartmouth College, called this the “home-voter hypothesis.” He said that in most cities, homeowners are the most active slice of the electorate. “It is the most concealed motivation around,” Fischel said. “It’s gauche for people to get up and say at a public meeting, ‘My home value is going to go down if they build apartments across the street.’ They’ll talk about the effects of traffic and noise, good schools.” Economists say this can affect the value of homes, he said. While new development does not necessarily harm real estate values, neighbors oppose these plans because of the chance that it might, Fischel said. Re-
stricting housing supply tends to prop up home resale prices. But western neighbors have valid reasons to oppose rezoning, said Mary Gallagher, San Francisco’s former assistant director of planning. Increasing housing in low-density areas leads to the nuisance of construction and demolition, residential and business displacement, traffic congestion, parking problems and a change in the character of the neighborhood. This would all come in exchange for a modest number of affordable housing units. DISPLACEMENT WORRIES Displacement of long-term renters is a big concern in
REZONE continued on A4
Affordable Tenant Co-ops Could Protect Buildings From Speculative Market
New state law makes it easier for groups to incorporate and get financing By Robin Ngai and Emily Mibach // Public Press
f nonprofit organizations in San Francisco had an easier time acquiring residential properties and turning them into housing cooperatives, advocates say it could keep rents down for thousands of tenants. It may sound like a pipe dream, but the widespread co-op housing network in New York shows that it is possible in big cities. Co-op housing organizers have been pushing the idea for years. They are building a small but growing movement for “community land trusts,” which purchase apartment buildings to keep rents low, out of the fluctuating speculative housing market. Though they are difficult to monitor, cooperatives still seem to be a fringe phenomenon in San Francisco. They include about 2,000 apartments, according to one unofficial tally. If the average household size is typical for the city, those residents would make up less than 1 percent of the city’s population. Compare that with New York City, where a single government-run co-op program is responsible for housing, on a per capita basis, about three times as many people. In both cities, co-ops come in many forms, with various ownership and management structures. Many are market-rate stock co-ops that resemble condominiums, but these offer little to those who seek refuge as housing skyrockets. In San Francisco, a different form of ownership is slowly taking root. In the last 11 years, the San Francisco Community Land Trust has acquired five buildings, housing 70 tenants. They each pay less than 30
percent of their incomes toward rent. Now state and local officials are crafting laws that would make it easier for new coops to incorporate and get financing to buy property. On Sept. 27, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law making it easier for tenants to form and run limited-equity co-ops, using money from state and federally chartered credit unions and other institutions. Under the limited-equity ownership model, rent on an apartment does not increase more than 10 percent even when a tenant moves out. That is more tenant-friendly than San Francisco’s rent control law, which allows landlords to increase the monthly rent to any amount for new tenants. Limited-equity housing often is explicitly set up to provide long-term affordability for low- and medium-income households. That reform might ultimately help tenants who face eviction through the Ellis Act. State law allows an owner to eject all of a building’s tenants if the owner intends to remove it from the rental market and sell the property — an alluring option in today’s hyperinflated market. Indeed, the San Francisco Community Land Trust has purchased all of its buildings in response to warnings that those tenants might soon get “Ellised.” FINANCIAL HURDLES Co-op housing can be a boon for lowincome residents. The hardest time to buy a building to create a co-op is when prices are high and the need for cheap housing is most extreme. “Without the city money available, it’s
PROVACATIVE IDEAS SEE MORE ONLINE:
been very difficult to buy buildings,” said Tracy Parent, the land trust’s director. The organization nearly sealed the deal to purchase five separate buildings, but each time failed to outbid competitors. Private donors are fickle, Parent said, making it hard to predict how much buying power the land trust will have from one year to the next. “We can only use private sources that give short-term financing.” That may explain why so few co-ops have succeeded recently. By Parent’s reckoning, only 2,107 housing units belong to co-ops, in 16 buildings that were mostly built before 1985. For the most part, affordably priced nonprofit co-ops look like ordinary residential buildings. But residents say they create a greater sense of community. In one five-story building in Chinatown, 36 residents live in small apartments in an unremarkable-looking building that appears to be just another business or apartment complex. The building, owned by the land trust, has a shared family room in the basement, with a television and space for group activities. Residents meet a few times a month to discuss living conditions and to socialize. “The land trust has helped us a lot with figuring out the numbers and workings of our building,” said Michael Tam, president of the board of the Columbus United Co-op. “Really, they have done us a big favor.” ABLE TO SCALE UP One East Coast program is a model for co-op housing that San Francisco might learn from. Launched in 1955, New York
The San Francisco Community Land Trust purchased 2976 23rd St. after tenant Juan Hernandez warned the organization that the owner would soon sell it, leaving tenants vulnerable to an Ellis Act eviction. Robin Ngai // Public Press State’s Mitchell-Lama program now helps to maintain 98 limited-equity co-op residential buildings that contain 45,493 permanently affordable apartments in New York City alone. While San Francisco does not possess a comparable program that specifically targets co-ops, local policymakers have passed laws that could indirectly make it easier for co-ops to form. In August, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced an infusion of $3 million into the city’s existing Small Sites Acquisition Fund. Organizations can apply for the money to purchase small market-rate apartment buildings, containing up to 25 units, and convert them into affordable housing. Like New York’s Mitchell-Lama program, San
Francisco’s acquisition fund grants lowinterest mortgage loans. The fund draws some of its money from city fees through the Inclusionary Housing Program, which developers must pay when they choose not to build affordable housing into large residential projects. Lee said in August that the fund creates more affordable living options and “offers a way to create certainty for our longtime San Francisco families and rent-controlled households.” In addition, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu succeeded in passing a law giving tenants the first chance to purchase their buildings at fair-market value whenever the whole property is put up for sale.
BACKYARD COTTAGES FOR DENSER NEIGHBORHOODS
CREDITS FOR COMPACT DEVELOPMENT
TINY PREFABRICATED PORTABLE HOMES
RENT CONTROL FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
$200 MILLION BOND FOR NEW BUILDINGS
NONPROFIT ARTIST LIVE-WORK LOFTS
NANO APARTMENTS WITH SHARED SPACE
A4 | SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG | SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS, FALL 2014
Bibliohead Bookstore shut its doors in September so that the building’s owner could perform a mandatory soft-story retrofit. Because the landlord took the opportunity to remodel the building’s interior, he will also raise the rent — beyond what Melissa Richmond, the bookstore’s owner, can afford. Richmond has yet to locate a suitable new storefront (left). Photo Courtesy Melissa Richmond via Youtube A Marina District building nearly “pancaked” on a soft first story in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (above). FEMA photo San Francisco’s new earthquake warning (inset). San Francisco Department of Building Inspection
Read more at sfpublicpress.org/earthquakes
S.F.'s Early Tally of Buildings Needing Earthquake Retrofits Off by 60% With up to 70,000 people living in vulnerable structures, landlords race to meet construction deadlines By Barbara Grady and Noah Arroyo // Public Press
he number of San Francisco buildings vulnerable to collapse in a major earthquake is far greater than the city estimated when it passed a sweeping mandatory housing retrofit law, according to new data from earthquake inspections. Engineering and architectural inspections filed by building owners through mid-September, to comply with the city’s requirement to shore up older wood-frame buildings, show that 4,788 apartment buildings need to be retrofitted — about 60 percent more structures than the city estimated when drafting the law. The buildings may be home to 60,000 to 70,000 residents, said Patrick Otellini, the city’s earthquake safety director. Before the law passed, the highest estimate of affected residents was 58,000. Buildings on the list also contain about 2,000 businesses, according to city documents. Owners of some of these businesses now face displacement or closure in an increasingly expensive real estate market. The February 2013 law requires retrofits in three to six years, depending on the type and use of the buildings. Additional demand for specialists in earthquake repair could mire San Francisco in new construction that could interrupt retail activity, inconvenience tenants and make it even harder to find qualified contractors and rental space. San Francisco’s iconic wooden, big-windowed apartment buildings, with their quaint first-floor shops, are some of the most problematic. Garage doors or glassfronted stores on the ground floor are prone to weaken load-bearing walls, making these so-called soft-story buildings vulnerable to collapse. The mandatory retrofit law targets wood-frame structures built before 1978, with three or more stories and at least five apartments. Many buildings of this type collapsed in the Marina District during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. DISPLACEMENT CONCERNS In most cases, tenants can remain during retrofits. But first-floor businesses often need to vacate until the work is done. One business owner has already been disrupted. Bibliohead Bookstore in Hayes Valley shut its doors on Sept. 19 so that the landlord could perform a soft-story
retrofit on the building. But owner Melissa Richmond said she will not be able to return to that location when the work is done. The landlord told her the retrofits and other remodeling would take four months, and when the building reopened, she said, “he is planning on doubling the rent.” A sign in the window told customers to look out for a new location. But Richmond said she did not yet know where. “My entire future is in the balance as there are no mechanisms to protect me,” she wrote in a letter to customers on the store’s website. T2J Thai Restaurant on Polk Street closed in July. A sign outside cited “soft story compliance,” and customers on Yelp have lamented its disappearance. The restaurant’s telephone number is no longer in service. Staff at the Department of Building Inspection, the agency charged with enforcing the retrofit requirements, said they had not received complaints about business closures, but added that program is new and few owners have started construction. Residents of the buildings, however, have some safeguards from displacement or steep rent hikes. Though landlords can recoup all of their out-of-pocket retrofit ex- penses by raising rents over a 20-year period, they cannot add more than $30 annually to the rent for that purpose. Still, many residents are uncertain about their rights. “We have received a lot of questions about how the program works,” said Robert Collins, deputy director of San Francisco’s Rent Board.
Tenants could avoid paying increases by asserting financial hardship, such as proving that retrofits pushed the rent above 33 percent of their household income. PREPARING FOR MAJOR QUAKES City staff were working in early October to begin posting warning signs on the front of properties whose owners failed to file inspection reports in compliance with the retrofit law by the deadline in mid-September, Otellini said. “EARTHQUAKE WARNING!” the city placard reads. “This building is in violation of the requirements of the San Francisco Building Code regarding earthquake safety.” Similar signs have appeared in other cities in the Bay Area, including Berkeley. Public notices are intended to alert residents who have no idea that their homes might be vulnerable. But so far, not everyone is alarmed enough about the danger to worry much about it. “I don’t know anything about the ordinance,” said Jill Bittner, a resident of a Bay Street townhouse whose owner filed a building inspection just before the city’s deadline. “Frankly I’m more concerned about the car fumes” on the highly trafficked street, which she said were more likely to kill her than an earthquake. Under the city’s softstory retrofit rules, buildings used for education, convalescent residences or religious worship have the shortest retrofit deadlines. They must complete the work by fall 2017. Larger buildings with 15 apartments or more must be finished by 2018. Structures with commercial space on the ground floor, and those in geological liquefaction zones, have until 2020. Otellini said it was impossible to say precisely how many residents lived in the soft-story buildings. The city did not require inspectors to report the number of dwelling units in each building. That might have forced
them to reveal that tenants were living in illegal in-law units. “We didn’t want to put inspectors in that kind of difficult position,” Otellini said. The city will have an exact count only after owners file official work permits through the 2020 deadline. MORE ACCURATE COUNT When the soft-story law took effect early in 2013, city staff sent letters to landlords of 6,539 buildings, in an effort to “cast a wide net,” said William Strawn, spokesman for the Department of Building Inspection. At the time, he said that already “a couple of thousand of these probably have been retrofitted.” The letters told landlords they must have their properties inspected by engineers or architects qualified in earthquake safety. The new total of 4,788 buildings that have been deemed unsafe and needing retrofits shows a much more widespread problem than previously thought. The ordinance itself cited an estimate of “at least 2,800 buildings.” That was based on a rough analaysis by engineers and inspectors, who arrived at that total after conducting sidewalk surveys, as part of the city’s Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety. The report found concentrations of vulnerable buildings across the city, “most notably in the Mission, Western Addition, Richmond, North Beach and Marina neighborhoods.” Strawn did not comment on whether the large number of verified vulnerable buildings had surprised city staff. “The program is providing us with more accurate data,” he said. As San Francisco’s legislation was being prepared last year, a scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey told the Public Press that an earthquake of at least magnitude 6.7 had a 63 percent chance of hitting the Bay Area by 2038, according to the latest projections. The earthquake centered on Napa County on Aug. 24 was the largest in California since 1989. It measured at a 6.0 magnitude, USGS reported, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and numerous injuries. To properly brace for the next major earthquake, San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection estimates that landlords will have to spend between $60,000 and $120,000 on each building’s retrofit.
San Francisco’s Western Neighborhoods Have Avoided Changes in Housing Patterns, for Now REZONE continued from A3
the western neighborhoods, which have large middle-income populations. But recent census data show a rapidly shrinking middle class. Hiroshi Fukuda, land use and housing chair of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, said that if large-scale development produced mostly market-rate apartments, it could displace established residents paying lower rents. Developers are required to set aside only 12 percent of new housing units affordable for lowand moderate-income households through the city’s Inclusionary Housing Program. So while many of these residents cannot afford market-rate housing, they also do not qualify for low-income housing. Yet San Francisco has built or entitled only about 27.5 percent of the moderate-income housing it needs, compared with 56.8 percent of low-income housing, according to the Planning Department’s firstquarter 2014 pipeline report. Meanwhile, it is getting harder for average residents to buy homes. Only 14 percent of for-sale homes are affordable to the middle class, real estate website Trulia reported in May 2014. CHANGING POLITICAL CLIMATE Some within the San Francisco Neighborhoods Coalition say they are open to allowing growth within current zoning limits. Affordability for middle-income residents, not “densification,” is their biggest concern.
“They’re building the wrong type of housing for people who don’t even live here,” Fukuda said. According to a survey by Civinomics, a public policy research company, 40 percent of polled western neighborhood residents said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” rezoning of their block for higher density. “For someone who’s not a native, my wife and I chose deliberately to raise our children in the city, so I don’t want a suburban existence,” said Ike Kwon, who bought a home when he moved to the Sunset District with his family six years ago. “A city is rich when it’s very diverse." Increased density would provide more customers for older commercial corridors, and a report from SPUR, a local urban policy research organization, said mixed-use projects with housing above retail could improve the streetscape, add new public spaces and enhance shopping choices. WESTERN NEIGHBORHOODS PLANNING While city planners have crafted neighborhoodwide construction plans for other areas of the city, they have never extended that to the west — even though doing so could facilitate housing construction. Developers must submit environmental impact reports for large projects, which can then become mired in red tape. But a western neighborhoods plan could assess the impacts of multiple projects at
ZONING THE WESTERN NEIGHBORHOODS: TWO APPROACHES
Additional housing units that could be added CURRENT ZONING*
Allowed dwelling units by size
Housing units that could be added per lot
Off-street residential parking requirement
1 per dwelling unit
4 or 5
1 per 800 square feet (with some exceptions)
* “Neighborhood Commercial District” (NCD, NC-1, NC-2, NC-3) ** “Neighborhood Commercial Transit District” (NCTD, NCT-3) once, unifying them under a single comprehensive impact report and exempting each developer from filing independently. That would speed up the construction process. It would also enable city staff to address community concerns and plan new affordable housing at the neighborhood level, instead of a project-by-project basis. It would save “tons of time and money,” Switzky said, adding that areas that use combined environmental impact reports “get through the process a lot faster and with a lot more certainty.” And the west’s geography is inherently unattractive to developers who would prefer to build on a large scale. Compared with the available
land in the city’s southeast sectors, western parcels are tiny. A developer might want to buy one if it could be combined with an adjacent parcel, but that process is difficult, Switzky said. While developers would clearly benefit, homeowners outside rezoned corridors are a different story. “If you rezone selectively around the transit areas, then the properties of the owners around where you rezone are going to make a lot of money,” Monkkonen said. “But everyone else doesn’t make any money off it and bear the cost of having more transit.” Monkkonen said that one way to help out homeowners would be to redistribute some of the higher
property taxes in the rezoned areas by reducing the tax burden on properties on side streets. And a plan could allay displacement concerns as well. At a Public Press conference in June that focused on housing solutions, Hack the Housing Crisis, Rodgers from the Planning Department proposed rezoning the western neighborhoods for higher density on the condition that current residents would get to continue living in the neighborhood. TRANSPORTATION PROBLEMS Because cars are so essential to western neighborhood residents, it would be politically unpopular to increase housing density by drop-
ping parking requirements in new housing. That could explain why one modest zoning change, which Switzky described, has not happened yet: eliminating all parking requirements for new developments. That would force new residents with cars to find street parking, a precious commodity in the city, potentially threatening its availability. About 93 percent of the Outer Sunset’s parking spaces are unmetered street parking, a higher percentage than in any other neighborhood, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Parking Census, published in May. But the nature of the western suburbs makes it hard for experts to envision new housing without also bolstering public transportation. Sparse and infrequent buses mean that trips downtown can take a long time. Right now, residents in these neighborhoods depend on their cars. In the Outer Sunset, 63 percent of adults drive to work, many more than the city average of 46 percent, according to a 2011 San Francisco Neighborhoods SocioEconomic Profiles report. For years, the city has been promoting its Transit Effectiveness Project, which includes a bus rapidtransit system, featuring dedicated transit lanes and other infrastructure innovations on Geary Boulevard. But in anticipation of that expensive project, the city has shelved other, smaller fixes to the system, Radulovich said. “Just tuning up the service, getting things running faster is something that they could have done years ago,” he said.
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS, FALL 2014 | SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG | A5
Thousands of Property Owners and Renters Seen as Breaking the Law
Housing activists protest the short-term rentals of apartments in a building where, they say, residents have been evicted illegally. David Zlutnik // KALW Crosscurrents.
Tourist rentals criticized as exacerbating S.F. housing affordability crisis By Ben Trefny // KALW Crosscurrents
Editor’s Note: Ted Gullicksen, who is featured in this story, died on Oct. 14 at age 61.
ctivists gathered in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood recently to call attention to part of the city’s housing crisis. They got together around a three-unit apartment building where flats are rented out to vacationers through an online broker. The protesters plastered the building with green stickers that said the tourist rentals there are illegal. This used to be the rent-controlled home of elderly tenants, until out-of-town investors bought the building and ousted the residents. That makes Ted Gullicksen furious. “They’re making a lot of money doing this, and it’s a purely illegal business model,” he said. “They’re taking away our rent-controlled housing stock, and they’re causing evictions.” Gullicksen leads the San Francisco Ten-
ants Union. The city already has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the nation: about 3 percent. It also has some of the most expensive median rents: A one-bedroom goes for around $3,100 a month. Local law limits rent increases for long-term residents; but if tenants are evicted, like they were here, they will probably have to pay market rate to stay in the city. Peter Kwan heads a group called Homesharers of San Francisco. He appreciates the Tenants Union calling attention to situations like the one in North Beach. “But they may be giving the impression that everybody who hosts are equally bad actors, which is simply not the case,” he said. Kwan founded Homesharers two years ago in his living room. Now it has more than a thousand members, and a lot are like him. They do not evict tenants; they live in the property they rent to tourists on sites like Airbnb and VRBO, which stands for Vaction Rental By Owner. Kwan gets about 130 bucks a night for a room in his house, and it is booked pretty solid in the
summer. “When I started,” he said, “I had a lot of questions about legality, tax, insurance.” When asked if it is legal for him to rent out a room in his house on a short-term basis, he said he still does not know. “You know, it probably would be advisable to find out exactly the illegality that’s involved,” he said. “And then, I guess, one would have to make a decision as to what the implications are.” He said that he may look into it. In fact, there are at least two codes and ordinances that make private rentals of less than 30 days illegal in San Francisco. They are not allowed for rented rooms, flats or houses. They are not allowed for owned properties or for sublets. Two lawsuits have been filed so far, and the city attorney is considering more. New York City has similar rules outlawing rentals of less than 30 days, and officials there have been cracking down. But San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim said his city is trying to walk a fine line. It wants to protect vulnerable
tenants while not troubling people trying to make “a little bit of money” in their apartment or house. Rahaim has as many as five people working on the issue. But he said it is very difficult to have people follow zoning laws. “Most of these units aren’t being changed physically,” he said. “So you can’t walk into a unit and say, ‘Oh, you’re in violation.’ It’s about how it’s used.” Rahaim describes profiting off short-term property rentals as “technically” illegal. The planning department did submit a complaint about that three-unit North Beach apartment where the protest took place. The owners do not live in San Francisco; they reside on Coronado Island, near San Diego. They claim not to have known about the city’s requirements and say they are now committed to complying. But their attorney, Ryan Patterson, contends that concession might not be necessary. “Property owners have a right to privacy in their homes,” he said. “And it’s problematic for the city to come in and say which bedrooms can be occupied by which
individuals under a private agreement by a property owner, maybe a tenant of a home, and somebody who’s going to stay there. Sometimes there may not be payment for the use of a room. Sometimes it’s uncertain how long a guest is going to stay. And in a lot of cases it seems problematic for the city to be asking those questions to begin with. ‘Who’s sleeping in this bed?’ It may not be the city’s business.” San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said, “We know that the current reality is that these laws are broken every day. The estimates are, in San Francisco, over the past year, we’ve seen over 100,000 incidents of this.” After considering the complexities of the issue, Chiu has proposed compromise legislation. It would legalize rentals of less than 30 days, so long as the owner occupies the residence, registers with the city, carries insurance, pays hotel taxes, and rents space out for only 90 days a year. “Let me be clear,” he said. “Under our legislation, we are not going to allow second homes or vacation homes to be rented short term by owners.” That would force investors out of the market, while residents would be welcomed. “During our affordability crisis,” said Chiu, “this has been a way for San Franciscans to pay the rent and put food on the table.” But critics do not think that is actually who would benefit from Chiu’s rules. Longtime housing activist Calvin Welch said: “The notion that Airbnb is helping struggling, working class, single heads of household stay in this town is absolutely laughable.” He thinks the booming short-term rental market is an example of exploiting the city’s resources to reward the wealthy. “If you map them, which we have done, they are overwhelmingly in upper middleclass income neighborhoods,” he said. “In Pacific Heights, the Marina, west of Twin Peaks. That’s where it’s happening.” Altogether, at least 7,500 units are available for rent on a short-term basis in San Francisco at any given time. Carl Shepherd facilitates many of those transactions for tourists. And the co-founder of HomeAway, based in Austin, Texas, which runs many vacation rental websites including VRBO, said he is pro-regulation. But, he adds, too many restrictions could just send the hot market underground. “So it’s a little like Prohibition in the ‘30s and what you don’t want to do is create a law that can’t be enforced, because that does no one any good,” he said. Other cities around the world have made definitive choices. Laws recently passed allowing short-term residential rentals in Amsterdam and Paris; however, Berlin and Barcelona both have banned them. The short-term rental arm of the socalled “sharing economy” will adjust one way or the other as regulations slowly catch up to technology.
High Rents and Low Wages Trap Chinese Immigrants in SROs Older tenants cross language and cultural barriers to seek justice By Melanie Young // KALW and New American Media
enants are facing a tough time in San Francisco. The city has some of the nation’s highest rents, and laws like the Ellis Act have made evictions front-page news. But there are pockets of affordability, like in Chinatown, where the average rent is one-third as much as in other neighborhoods. But the neighborhood is also one of the country’s most overcrowded, and many tenants claim that landlords violate health and safety codes. In response to rising rents and shoddy housing, a group of low-income, mostly elderly Chinatown renters have crossed language and cultural barriers to change their neighborhood. Norman Fong grew up in Chinatown in the 1960s and has worked in the community his entire career. He is currently the executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that works on neighborhood housing issues. “Half of Chinatown, actually, the tourists don’t see,” Fong said. “Above all the restaurants and shops are SROs, single room occupancy residence hotels.” Fong said residents flock to parks like Portsmouth Square in the heart of Chinatown, because they need space to breathe. “Portsmouth Square is really important to our community,” Fong said. “It’s really the living room for our community. If you’ve been into an SRO, a single room occupancy, it’s very tight. It’s a closet-like space.” Chinatown resident Lee Ming Dang emigrated from China a year ago with her husband, teenage son and daughter. Now they live together in one 7-by-7-foot room. Aside from a couple of stools, a twin bunk bed is their only furniture — nothing else will fit. The family sleeps, eats, studies and rests together on the bed. “My daughter and I sleep on the bottom bunk,” Lee said. “My husband and son share the top bunk.” The family pays $300 a month in rent. Even for Chinatown, that is very low, but Lee said that is about all the family can afford. Her husband, a janitor, cannot find full-time work. Constant stress over money and living in a cramped space, literally on top of each other, leads to a lot of conflict. As she opens up about her family, Lee starts to cry. “When my husband gets back from work, he’s tired. He yells at my son to get off the stool and sit on the bed instead. I am so sorry. I wish I could help earn enough to move.” Years ago, when immigrants arrived in Chinatown, they would live in an SRO for a while, save up, then move to a bigger place. But soaring rents and low wages block that path now, even for more seasoned immigrants. Lee Ping Yee (no relation to Lee Ming Dang) moved
to the United States in 2004. She has lived in her SRO for five years. Her daughter’s friends are visiting, leaving Lee with no place to sit. Instead, she leans on the doorway of her unit, saying hello as neighbors walk by. As we speak, the lights suddenly go out. “There’s always power shortages.” Lee said. “I have to wait for the neighbors to finish cooking. Then I can have power to cook my dinner.” With no electricity and no place to sit, Lee Ping Yee paces the hall in frustration. She wants out. She has been in the U.S. for 10 years, and she feels stuck. “I [don't have] enough money to buy house.” Lee said it is even harder with children, “Support them and you know, grow up my daughter, you need money. Always call mommy, I need money buy food. Ah, it’s hard.” Like many in Chinatown, both Lees are immigrants with limited English, limited incomes and limited prospects. They are not, however, powerless. The women
“We have weekly educational workshops on housing, health and Social Security benefits policies, so we’re very up-todate and prepared.” Leung Wing Ho, president, Community Tenants Association are members of the Community Tenants Association. The association was founded 26 years ago when one Chinatown building’s tenants got together to fight an eviction. When they won their case, they decided to share what they had learned with other residents. Since then, they have seen each other through rental problems and weighed in on San Francisco’s housing policies. Neighborhood resident Leung Wing Ho said the association saved his home. “I had just retired when I was evicted from my apartment. I was really worried because I was old and only had my retirement income.” Leung and his neighbors turned to the association for help. They pulled together other housing rights groups and elected officials to support the tenants. “We held rallies in front of the building with hundreds of people,” Leung recalls. “At a mediation conference, the landlord rescinded the eviction notice.” That was six years ago. Today, Leung is the association’s president.
He said the group has about 1,000 members and feels like a giant family. But they are also very disciplined about their goals. “We have weekly educational workshops on housing, health and Social Security benefits policies, so we’re very up-to-date and prepared.” Being prepared gives the association a voice at City Hall, where members regularly testify. At a recent Muni hearing, association Vice President Zheng Pei Juan explained: “I know some senior couples who can only afford one Muni pass, so they take turns to run errands and most importantly, to go on visits to doctors. The city’s becoming increasingly unaffordable.” That unaffordability is especially stark in Chinatown. The average household income here is only one-quarter of what it is in the rest of San Francisco. Despite that inequity, rents are on the rise. Association member Lee Gum Gee rented an apartment on the border of Chinatown and Nob Hill for 34 years. When a new landlord invoked the Ellis Act to evict all the residents, Lee decided to fight. Chinatown Community Development Corporation’s Norman Fong said it was not just her neighbors who rallied behind her. “I think because she was saying, ‘I’m not moving, I’m not leaving my daughter here who is mentally challenged. This is my home. I deserve to have a life here in San Francisco,’” Fong said. “Somehow her story resonated with hundreds of others.” “On the day of her eviction, [the association] were there, but citywide people came from all over.” Dozens of elderly Chinese tenants from the association stationed themselves in front of the apartment, holding signs and showing support. Lee and her family eventually had to leave the apartment, but Norman Fong said the case drew public attention and helped spur action at City Hall and Sacramento. “This little Chinatown case with [association] backup, citywide and statewide policies are changing now to help protect all San Francisco so there are homes for middle class folks that are at risk for Ellis Act as well,” Fong said. “We’ve turned fear into action. That’s what [the association] represents to me. They’re fearless.” Every Wednesday, association members meet for workshops, share news updates and socialize. They launch each session with a sing-a-long. Association President Leung Wing Ho said it helps bring them together. “Singing makes us happy, gives us courage and the spirit to fight for our causes,” Leung said. And that fighting spirit is spreading. One hundred new members join the association every year.
SRO tenant Lee Ming Dang lives with her husband, son and daughter in a 7-by-7foot room. Melanie Young // KALW Crosscurrents
A6 | SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG | SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS, FALL 2014
In San Francisco, Time Runs Short for Dying Eucalyptus Forest Mount Sutro’s once-thriving trees succumbing to age and drought By Becca Andrews // Bay Nature
alk a few feet into the jungle on the west side of San Francisco’s Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, and you will come to an unusual threeheaded eucalyptus tree. Its single trunk is firmly rooted, and three trees sprout tenuously from the base, limbs stretching out away from the prevailing west wind and into the tangle of brown-and-green that dominates this 61-acre open space area. We are standing to the left of the trunk as a group of four cyclists pauses to study the tree and debate their route. The apparent quirk of nature is an unexpected gift during their workout — they glance at the tree, they glance at their phones, they glance at the tree, they glance at each other, they glance at the tree. Craig Dawson, meanwhile, just gazes at the tree. He stands at its base and surveys it and its surrounding plant life, gently probing the bark like a doctor searching for a diagnosis. To Dawson, who knows this place as well as anyone, the tree is not some kind of poetic, natural rebellion — it is a sign that the forest is sick. The extra stress of multiple “heads” drains the tree’s main trunk of its water supply, turning what is referred to by Dawson as a “moisture sweet spot” into a stilled heart that will eventually give way to deep splits. Splits lead to breakage; breakage leads to limbs that crash to the ground with a sound Dawson likens to a clap of thunder. Sutro Forest is quickly becoming a hazardous place for hikers and bikers who want to escape the city without leaving it. “If you hear something crack above you, just move quick,” Dawson said. “They call these falling branches widow-makers for a reason.” Sutro’s once-thriving blue gum eucalyptus trees are dying for a variety of reasons, including age and drought, both of which make the trees more susceptible to disease, pests and fire. And there are probably other causes yet to be identified by the master arborists and biologists studying the forest. But the foresters generally agree that time is running out for this urban forest, which is owned and managed by the University of California, San Francisco. At the moment, though, the university does not have an approved environmental impact report for maintenance, and in the absence of major work conditions are deteriorating fast. Dawson’s 8-year-old nonprofit, Sutro Stewards, has built and maintained trails through the forest, and performs some small-scale tasks, but the Stewards’ resources are limited. Attempts to come up with an updated management plan have stalled, so for now the Sutro Forest remains in limbo. Until the late 1800s, the centrally located prominence that would soon be
named Mount Sutro was covered in native coastal shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. It was most definitely not a forest. But Adolf Sutro, at the time the mayor of San Francisco, owned the hill, and a forest was what he wanted on his hill. So in 1886, he planted imported blue-gum eucalyptus and other fast-growing non-native trees in honor of Arbor Day. Sutro’s efforts 130 years ago gave birth to the modern forest, which is problem No. 1: The typical life span of a blue gum eucalyptus in California is about a century, Dawson said. But that is not Sutro’s problem any more. In 1895, Sutro donated 13 of Mount Sutro’s acres to UCSF, and in 1953 the university bought 90 more acres that included the rest of the hill. Since then, UCSF’s relationship with the area, and its attempts to come up with a plan for it, have been complicated by the passionate voices of community members who have become invested in their local open space but who do not necessarily agree on how it should be cared for. The Sutro Stewards, along with a handful of master arborists, thought they had a workable plan in January 2013, when UCSF released a draft environmental impact report that announced intentions to
“There’s no question these trees are sick, there’s no question whether these trees are going to survive — they are not.” Craig Dawson, Sutro Stewards
reduce the fire risk by thinning the forest and removing the dying eucalyptus trees. That plan, however, was met with fierce opposition from people who considered the removal of trees — any trees — as destruction of their beloved forest. The draft document received more than 300 comments, many of which argued that nature should be allowed to take its course in Sutro Forest. The uproar effectively stymied further action: In November 2013, the university announced that it was planning for a new environmental impact report taking an entirely different approach and managing the forest solely for fire danger (mainly by bulldozing particularly dangerous areas); in February 2014, a university spokesperson said that that report had been withdrawn and that work on the original draft report was continuing. UCSF’s website states that the delay is due to an “unforeseen workload.” Damon Lew, UCSF’s assistant director of community relations, says master arborist Kent Julin is helping the university draft a new report, tentatively slated for release this fall, that will address all 300 comments. Julin said he cannot discuss the new report’s progress, but says that the state of
Sutro Forest is grim. Invasive species like blackberry and English ivy are overwhelming the ecosystem and choking the previous inhabitants — and, more importantly, creating a severe fire hazard by collecting “fine fuel” like twigs and leaves. Typically, in a forest like this, a disturbance of some sort — like a fire — would clear the thick understory and allow new trees to grow. But fire is not an acceptable management option in a densely populated city where local firefighters have more experience with burning buildings than forest fires, But some now argue that never mind an intentional, controlled burn: The entire area could go up in an uncontrolled blaze. Longtime San Francisco city gardener, native plant advocate and Sutro Steward volunteer Jake Sigg sees fire as a distinct possibility in the city’s drought-stressed, sick eucalyptus groves. “People find it hard to credit the possibility of a fire in these areas,” Sigg wrote in his Nature News email newsletter on June 10. But he describes stumbling into a chesthigh pit of dry fuel five years ago and having an “epiphany” about the alarming level of fuel accumulation in the forest. “The long strips of annually shedding blue gum bark have been known to carry fire 12 miles, enough to carry glowing embers from San Francisco to the East Bay hills,” he wrote. “At the risk of sounding alarmist, it is not unrealistic to portray a scenario of a rare general alarm fire.” Julin says he agrees, especially given this year’s drought. “On any given day in the summertime, if there’s no fog, there’s a potential for a fire.” Although UCSF does basic fire prevention maintenance — last summer, workers cleared vegetation away from the roads through the grove and this year cut back growth from campus housing and other UCSF structures — Dawson and Julin said they worry it is not enough. “The issue that we have been talking about for 16 years has suddenly come to a boil,” Dawson said. “There’s no question these trees are sick, there’s no question whether these trees are going to survive — they are not — and this [current state of the forest] is a game changer.” As he walks through the forest, Dawson gestures at thick ivy and blackberry vines that snake their way up pale tree trunks. Among other effects, the brambly mess makes it difficult for birds of prey, such as the great horned owl, to hunt rodents, forcing the birds to the forest’s outer edges. A dead tree catches Dawson’s eye. The trunk, barely visible through the thick green net of ivy, is huge, but as it stretches into the sky, the branches are smaller and bare. The only green is the emerald of the ivy, and the only sign of the former canopy is the skeletal remains of dead eucalyptus. “Look at that, that’s all ivy, the tree is being supported just by ivy,” Dawson says. The problems have become so great, the tangle in the forest so dense, that there is no easy solution. Bulldozers can temporarily clear away blackberry and ivy, but that also spreads the seeds, ensuring the invasive plants will come back just as strong. Eucalyptus trees themselves are notori-
Craig Dawson, executive director of Sutro Stewards, said the forest could remain in untended much longer without posing a threat to visitors. Becca Andrews // Bay Nature ously difficult to remove: Cut the trunk off, and they will re-sprout if not treated. Bag the trunk to prevent regrowth, and the tree can re-sprout in multiple places, all along its roots. Poison the tree, and it will suck up the poison and send it out into its roots, killing everything around it. To remove a single tree can cost thousands of dollars; multiply that by the 45,000 (or so) trees in the reserve. Back at the foot of the three-headed tree, the cyclists decide to take a trail that veers off in the opposite direction of the unnatural phenomenon. They zip off through the trees, calling back and forth to one another. A few joggers also pass by, ear buds in,
enjoying the breeze filtering through the forest. Dawson and I pick our way back through the dense understory, listening carefully for the slightest hint of a cracking branch.
Longtime San Francisco Shelter for People With AIDS Gets New Life Fundraising to create affordable housing cooperative for LGBTQ community housing laws, managing a budget and more. Tracy Parent, director of the Land Trust, said that the efore its closure in 2010, a house called “Marty’s Place” Land Trust will help recruit and train the nine founding served as a private homeless shelter for those living co-op members who will be ready to move in by the spring of with HIV/AIDS. Soon the longtime institution, on next year. Treat and 25th streets, will open again; when it does “The reason why the Land Trust is excited about this it will become the first “permanently affordable” housing project [is that] it’s not only building on a history of affordcooperative for the city’s LGBTQ community living with HIV able housing, it’s one more example of shared ownership, and AIDS. shared management, and shared control,” she said. “It can be A Victorian built in 1895 with a muraled garage door that a model that can be expanded in San Francisco.” opens out to Balmy Alley, Marty’s Place offers a particularly It is not the first time the Land Trust has implemented the charming new model for affordable housing. co-op model in the Mission District. In May, the residents of It will be owned and managed by the tenants who inhabit 2976 23rd St. were saved from eviction when the Land Trust it. bought their 14-unit building and converted it into a self“You have this vision of low-income housing as not being managed co-op house, an effort spearheaded by the tenants beautiful, but when you walk into Marty’s Place, the beauty themselves. strikes you,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer housing The Land Trust creates permanently affordable, residentactivist at the Housing controlled housing by Rights Committee, who helping its members form “It’s one more example of shared ownership, nonprofit cooperative is among the team to reopen the house. shared management and shared control. organizations and operate That beauty, said the property in which they Mecca, is the house’s long It can be a model that can be expanded live. legacy as a safe haven for With the help of the in San Francisco.” people living with HIV/ Land Trust and LGBTQ AIDS. Its namesake, activists, the future tenMarty Purcell, died from ants of Marty’s Place will Tracy Parent, director, the disease in 1990. In have community ownerThe Land Trust his memory, his brother ship of the land the house Richard Purcell founded sits on, rather than having Marty’s Place as a space a conventional landlord. “where people could find refuge.” Before the co-op residents can move in, they need to raise Richard Purcell, a Franciscan friar, operated Marty’s $250,000 by November to pay for much-needed renovations, Place completely independently for nearly 20 years, providincluding improvements to the plumbing and electrical sysing shelter for the sick and destitute. After his death in 2011, tems, a new roof, windows and fresh coats of paint. the property was handed off to Dolores Street Community “This story is very much the story of San Francisco, of Services. However, the nonprofit organization was unable to what makes this city so amazing and welcoming. It’s also, reopen the house, and Marty’s Place has remained vacant for sadly, about how we are losing,” Mecca said. “I think the the last few years. current housing crisis is all the more tragic because we are Now, Marty’s Place hopes to house six to nine low-income losing places like this, because the cost of buying something residents by turning the building into a cooperatively owned in the Mission is insanely high.” home facilitated by the San Francisco Community Land For Mecca, the house’s status as a “permanently affordTrust, which will start sharing ownership of the property able” place is a major step forward, particularly for LGBTQ with Dolores Street Community Services. Once it is repeople who are at risk of being priced out of the city. opened, future residents will be able to keep rent to $800 for “As a gay man, I lost a lot of my friends through AIDS,” a single room and $450 for a shared room. Mecca said. “It’s extremely important that people can come Through community ownership, co-op residents will make into the house and not feel that they’re going to get evicted in decisions together democratically through self-management a week … It’s a drop in the bucket, but at least it’s a drop in including collectively solving problems, keeping up-to-date on the bucket in the right direction.” By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu // Mission Local
Richard Purcell, a Franciscan friar, operated Marty’s Place independently for nearly 20 years. A mural of Purcell adorns the Balmy Alley garage door. Tearsa Joy Hammock // Public Press
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Tax-Break Hiring a Bust in San Francisco’s Tenderloin Companies say they are unable to find qualified tech workers in neighborhood By Tom Carter, Mark Hedin and Geoff Link // Central City Extra
hen the Twitter tax break was signed in 2011, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s office had high hopes that the expanding technology boom would explode with local hiring and that the incoming Internet companies could help realize his dream of 2,500 new tech jobs. The tax break allowed a waiver of the 1.5 percent payroll tax levied on companies, and the larger companies were required to sign Community Benefit Agreements. So the first agreements that each participating tech company signed to mitigate the harshness of the ensuing gentrification of the neighborhood referenced local workforce development. The 2013 benefit agreements all alluded to hiring locals but had few specifics and no grand goals or hiring promises. Much of the content resembled Twitter’s politically correct: “It is crucial that all people have access to economic growth.” But the expectation of jobs in the documents was palpable. Tech firms Zoosk and Zendesk pledged to hire interns from the neighborhood. Zendesk expected to hire at least two each in 2012 and 2013. Zendesk did hire a pair in 2012 but only one last year. Zoosk executed its community benefit agreement in 2013 and fulfilled its promise to hire two interns. All the interns got only summer jobs, and all came from the neighborhood’s Vietnamese Youth Development Center. But recently, Zoosk put someone on full-time in an entry-level position. That’s it: one full-time hire and five summer interns out of the neighborhood’s 30,000 residents. So residents of the central city — mid-Market Street and the Tenderloin — can only hope that they will be the 1 in 5,000 who snags some sort of job at Big Tech. The companies said local hiring has lagged because they cannot find qualified tech workers in the neighborhood. And they could have a point. So in the 2014 benefit agreements, four of the six tax-break firms — Twitter, Zendesk, One Kings Lane and Zoosk — said they would train locals in the hopes that one day they could be part of a tech workforce from the inner city. “The reason for the change in the [benefit agreement] wording to ‘training’ had to do with the difficulties that arose in finding interns that live in the Tenderloin,” Zendesk Public Affairs Director Tiffany Apczynski wrote in an email. “It is difficult and often not possible to post for and vet interns based on specific geographies like a neighborhood. “Zendesk also worked with community partners in the area, but even if a service provider may be located in the Tenderloin, the people they serve often live in other neighborhoods. We believe focusing on training will have a bigger impact and allow us to reach more people in the neighborhood.” The new emphasis on training is paying off for Community Housing Partnership’s new employment and training center, located in the nearby South of Market neighborhood.
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Illustration by Brooke Ginnard // www.brookeis.me, and Stamen Maps // Creative Commons
Zendesk’s $25,000 grant to Community Housing Partnership, the nonprofit that houses 1,400 formerly homeless people, enabled the organization to open its 2,800-square-foot job center in July, despite needing $150,000 in computers, furniture and supplies. The organization is now only $15,000 short of reaching that goal, spokeswoman Bridget Holian said. “Zendesk was the first organization to donate to this campaign, which helped us build confidence with other funders,” she said. The center trains front desk clerks for SROs, putting the formerly homeless into the workforce. Before, the training was done without computers in crowded community rooms in the central city. Above the training center are 44 units for young adults, also formerly homeless, “a population that desperately needs these services.” Zendesk also played a major part in the Housing Partnership’s fundraiser, “A Night With the Stars,” and its Youth Health and Wellness Fair. The Housing Partnership also showed up in the One Kings Lane community benefit agreement with its pledge to assist the center. Another 2014 example of funding to get people into jobs, rather than into a tech row chair on Market Street, is Twitter’s $10,000 contribution to Larkin Street Youth Services for its Hire Up program. This is for the education and employment of formerly homeless youth and disadvantaged people. Twitter also put $30,000 into a Bay Area
Video Coalition scholarship project to train “economically disadvantaged individuals for jobs in the technical sector.” But mid-Market/Tenderloin applicants are not specified for it. At two unnamed events this year, however, Twitter said it will counsel disadvantaged people on “how to gain employment in the company and other similar firms.” Mayor Lee has committed to creating 2,500 jobs in the next five years through TechSF, the program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Training and hiring San Franciscans would go through the First Source Hiring Program, which works with community organizations that train and place people in jobs or internships. “We’ve gotten pushback in terms of having local hiring requirements in the [benefit agreements], because the companies have said, ‘We can’t control that,’” said Jackie Jenks, executive director of Hospitality House, a member of the Market Street for the Masses Coalition. “I would encourage them to think outside the box on how they can help promote local hires in their companies. “I know that they’re not working with the Homeless Employment Collaborative,” she said. The Collaborative includes 10 organizations: Hospitality House, Episcopal Community Services, Goodwill, Catholic Charities, Swords to Plowshares, Mission Hiring Hall, Toolworks, Arriba Juntos, Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and Community Housing Partnership.
Zendesk, the first and then-only company to sign a benefit agreement in 2012, has led the way ever since in providing a model of community engagement that its tech peers have been slow to emulate. This year, Zendesk hosted a weeklong boot camp during high school spring break that recruited from the YMCA and the Vietnamese Youth Development Center and the public schools, giving participants a crash course in basic Web page-building skills. Apczynski announced the company’s plans to the Citizens Advisory Committee in March along with a promise to donate 50 laptops to Bessie Carmichael Elementary school. Other job-related Zendesk commitments in the benefit agreements include: collaborating with Twitter on an event focusing on women in engineering and working with training groups at Year Up, San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, Academy X and WestEd to provide the fine-tuning of knowledge needed “to meet growing start-up sector needs in San Francisco.” And it will continue working with the Vietnamese Youth Development Center with mentorships that prepare kids for college and the workforce. Cristino Lagahid, employment program manager at the Vietnamese youth center, said the nonprofit also has a relationship with Salesforce, which is not one of the benefit agreement companies, but has the advantage of being much larger than either Zoosk or Zendesk, and is “more sustainable to where it’s a pipeline of workforce opportu-
nities for low-income and inner-city youth.” The online dating site Zoosk, one of the smaller companies involved in the benefit agreement process, paid its two part-time summer interns $15 an hour. Zoosk also donated computers to the Vietnamese youth center. “We’ve had a working relationship with those two in particular (Zoosk and Zendesk) for the past one-and-a-half years,” Lagahid said, and mentioned career readiness workshops that opened clients’ eyes to career paths. “They’ve been very supportive.” Vietnamese youth center job specialist Dan Raftery said the internships provided so far have not developed into full-time work. Jinfeng Huang, 18, a 2013 Zoosk intern, said that going into her senior year at International High School, she worked in the marketing department 20 hours a week, learning how to build ads using computer software. Now she is enrolled at San Francisco State and said she will probably major in marketing. She lives near Civic Center with her parents and little brothers, and is the first in her family to go to college, she said. “It was great. They hired somebody with no work experience,” Huang said. She had been coached at the Vietnamese youth center on interview skills and resume writing, but “I was pretty nervous” when she went in for her first interview at Zoosk. This year, Zoosk promised to hire three interns, invite two local students to a yearlong computer training program that meets weekly at Zoosk, and invite 10 Vietnamese youth center members to a session on resume writing and interviewing skills. It will invite 10 more Vietnamese youth center members to Zoosk to discuss education, employment skills and career development. Zoosk will also host local residents and human resources personnel in a session devoted to improving job searches, networking and learning what entry-level skills are needed in the tech industry. Twitter, “for the past three summers, has hosted a [Girls Who Code] Summer Immersion Program in San Francisco, where 20 girls from the Bay Area study coding at Twitter Monday through Friday from 9 to 5,” said Caroline Barlerin, Twitter’s community liaison, responding to Central City Extra’s question about Twitter’s employment outreach. “Twitter is collaborating with Oasis for Girls to recruit more girls from the mid-Market area to next year’s class and Twitter's CTO, Adam Messinger, sits on the [Girls Who Code] board,” Barlerin said. Oasis, on Mission Street near Seventh, is for at-risk girls of color ages 14 to 17. “One thing they could do is partner with existing employment and training programs that do placement and hiring, such as the Homeless Employment Center to hire applicants through those programs said Jenks. Hire entry-level positions that they currently contract out – security, janitorial, food services, for instance, or pressure contractors to prioritize hiring folks from the community. We could send people to those jobs. “They’ve said, ‘We don’t control that hiring,’ but they could influence that hiring,” Jenks said, “because those folks want that contract.”
Survey of Mission District Families Investigates Why Kids Are Falling Behind Volunteerism, parent involvement in community could be keys to improving performance in schools By Melanie Young // KALW Crosscurrents
t the start of current school year, families all around San Francisco sent their children off with hopes for a good year and a bright future. But according to Carolina Guzman with the nonprofit Mission Economic Development Agency, children in the Mission District struggle on every rung of the education ladder. She said half the children entering kindergarten are not prepared to learn. “They don’t know their figures, colors, letters,” she said. “So that’s a big problem.” The problems continue as the children advance through school. “We have some of the lowest-performing schools in the county,” said Guzman. “We also have very high truancy and dropout rates throughout our high schools.” According to Guzman, the odds remain bleak, even for those who earn their diplomas and enter college. She said 30 percent do not graduate from college. They drop out in the second year. “So we want to understand: Why is that happening?” she said. “What can we do to improve it? We want to change that curve.” The development agency and the nonprofits that serve neighborhood families and children believe many of the answers lie in how the Mission itself functions as a community. And so they are getting families to open up about life in the Mission. On a weekday morning at the Mission Economic Development Agency, logistics coordinator Sophia McGurk hands out backpacks filled with surveys, maps and pens. She is sending teams of staff and volunteers on a quest for answers. McGurk pairs Amelia Martinez, who works at the agency, with Elizabeth Montiel, a volunteer. With their survey forms, a list of addresses and GPS in hand, they
head out the door with high hopes. But the morning is full of challenges. There are homes vacated and on the market. There are doorways without doorbells. The women leave postcards inviting those they miss to take the survey at the agency. Mission resident Rosie Bustamante accepts the invite.
“We’re finding there’s a lot of overcrowding, and that has true impact on children’s ability to do homework, to engage in school. Because they don’t have a space to study. It’s always noisy, there’s always something happening.” Carolina Guzman, Mission Economic Development Agency Bustamante comes into the agency to answer questions about raising her family. The questions range from whether she volunteers at school, to how much exercise her children get, to how many servings of vegetables they eat daily, to what she likes and what she would hope to change about the Mission. Between April and June, more than 450 households completed the 57-page survey. Now, the agency is crunching the numbers. Guzman said their preliminary findings already show the connection between what is happening in the neighborhood
and how kids do in school. “Families are spending 60 to 70 percent of income on housing,” she said. “We’re finding there’s a lot of overcrowding, and that has true impact on children’s ability to do homework, to engage in school. Because they don’t have a space to study. It’s always noisy, there’s always something happening.” Student performance, said Guzman, has neighborhood groups and parents worried and looking for a way out. “Our Head Starts in the Mission, their job is to make sure kids getting ready to enter kindergarten are ready to learn,” she said. “What we’re finding is a lot of our Head Starts are encouraging parents to apply for schools outside of the Mission. Because they don’t think the schools in the Mission are going to help the kids succeed.” Guzman remains optimistic though. The Mission is a U.S. Department of Education “Promise Neighborhood.” That means the federal government is helping fund both the survey project and programs to support students from cradle to college. Feedback from the surveys will help guide how the city, schools and organizations serve the community. That input could help turn around school performance Guzman said. “What we want is for programs like Head Start to say, ‘You know what? We trust our elementary schools. We know they will be great for your kids,’” she said. “That doesn’t just happen over one day. That doesn’t just happen by hearsay. We need to create the evidence as to why those schools are the right schools for these families.” The agency will present its initial findings in October. It will conduct two more surveys over the next three years, with the goal of making sure services, and the people who need them, match up.
Amelia Martinez (left) and Elizabeth Montiel (right) hit the streets to survey Mission District residents. Melanie Young // KALW Crosscurrents
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Artists Push Back Against Gentrification in Mission District Clarion Alley Mural Project highlights eviction and displacement By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu // El Tecolote
n the Mission District, San Francisco’s ground zero for evictions, local artists are using their talents to creatively resist the gentrification that has displaced their friends, neighbors and colleagues. But instead of picket signs and petitions, these artists-turned-activists are armed with paintbrushes and poems. “Putting paint on a wall is a very basic thing,” said Christopher Statton, a core organizer for the Clarion Alley Mural Project, which transformed a drug-ridden street in the heart of the Mission to a cluster of vibrant murals. Nestled between 17th and Sycamore streets, the alley linking Mission Street to Valencia displays anti-capitalist and other political artwork in an imaginative yet simple way that addresses the forces of gentrification and displacement, explained Megan Wilson, another one of the mural project’s organizers. “As organizers of the project, one of the things that has been important to us is to get messages out that have a social and political consciousness,” said Wilson, who lives with Statton in the Haight district. Their most recent mural, the “Wall of Shame and Solutions,” is a message board directly calling out the ills of the city. The mural bears a list of “shames,” including “SF eviction epidemic” and “corporate tax giveaways” as well as “solutions” such as “end corporate welfare” and “tax them and make them pay their fair share.” Between 2009 and 2013, housing prices soared by 30 percent in the Mission, where 71 Ellis Act evictions have occurred, according to a report by the city’s budget and legislative analyst released last November. Low-income communities have gradually been displaced as higher-income individuals — typically young tech workers — move in. Leading tech companies Google, Facebook and Twitter recently released diversity breakdowns of their workforces, which showed that their employees are largely white and male with few women, blacks or Latinos. Artists are struggling to preserve the Mission’s rich Latino culture while being priced out of an increasingly expensive neighborhood. For 71-year-old Yolanda López, a well-known artist and social justice advocate, the reality of removal hits home. On July 12, she was evicted from her home of 40 years. In response, she held “Accessories to an Eviction,” a garage sale and visual exhibit showcasing the legal papers from her landlord and the beloved belongings that she could not afford to keep. “Being a good artist requires a certain amount of risk, and there is that element of putting my name out there and the landlord’s name,” said López, who is currently fighting her eviction. “But it’s all factual … I’m just going to put them out there. There’s nothing shameful on my part. This is what
Alejandro Murguía recites a poem during the inauguration of the Calle24 Cultural District.
I have to deal with.” Alejandro Murguía, a longtime Mission resident and San Francisco’s poet laureate, refers to this wave of gentrification as the most “vicious and aggressive” in his community. When he first arrived in San Francisco in the early 1970s, he rented a large flat for $150 per month. Now, the same flat goes for an average of $2,600, according to a map by Zumper, a search website for apartment rentals. “The great contribution that draws people to the Mission District is its culture, its murals, its ambiance,” said Murguía, who does regular poetry readings in the community. “But in fact, that is the first thing that is being destroyed — block by block, eviction by eviction. It’s part of the contradiction that’s going on in the Mission District.” According to Murguía, artists play an important role in the Mission’s anti-eviction movement, whether capturing the struggle of the community through abstract art or documenting the people within it through
“They fall on the artists, the poets, the muralists, the creative people to address these issues because they are the issues of our time.” Alejandro Murguía, longtime Mission resident and San Francisco’s poet laureate short stories. “They fall on the artists, the poets, the muralists, the creative people to address these issues because they are the issues of our time,” Murguía said. “I think many poets, many writers, many creative people are attempting through their participation and their involvement to highlight some of these issues that the mainstream media conveniently ignores.” Art is personal and tends to reflect the
Mabel Jimenez // El Tecolote
intimate experiences of those who create it, Murguía said. Likewise, López’s eviction garage sale not only called attention to the Mission’s rapid changes, but also helped her personally deal with her eviction woes. “I think that’s one way of knitting a community: when we share our stories and see ourselves in each other,” López said. “The artwork also provides a venue for people to talk about what’s going on. … It makes [an eviction] real. It doesn’t just make it this amorphous, evil thing out there.” While a painting or photo may not be an end-all solution to the Mission’s gentrification and affordable housing crisis, local artists insist that culture is too important to lose. “To think that a poet or a poem can solve these issues is naive, but to think that these issues can be solved without poetry and poets and artists is equally naive,” said Murguía. “There’s definitely a role for us to play.”
Christopher Statton works on completing the “Wall of Shame” mural in February 2014 that is now on display in Clarion Alley. Erika Rae Langdon // Public Press
Raising Minimum Pay, Providing Benefits Would Reduce Worker Turnover UC Berkeley’s Ken Jacobs on restaurant wages in San Francisco By Todd Whitney // KALW
n the late 1990s and early 2000s, San Francisco passed a variety of measures to help low-wage workers keep up with the rising cost of living. The city now has the highest minimum wage in the country, at $10.74 an hour. It also requires employers to either provide health benefits or pay into a pool so the city can cover their health care costs. So how has this worked out for workers and their employers? Ken Jacobs has been studying those questions for over a decade. He is chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, and co-author of the book “When Mandates Work” about the effect of San Francisco’s labor laws. KALW’s Todd Whitney invited Jacobs on a driving tour around some of San Francisco’s restaurants to get an on-the-scene sense of wage issues. Here is an edited version of the interview.
somewhere in that range. It’s a small price increase for the customers, but it adds up to quite a bit for the workers. It’s very meaningful for them for their own ability to get by and survive in a city as expensive as this one. Q: We’re pulled up to our first stop, Taqueria Menudo in the Excelsior District. We’re talking about what the impact of having the highest minimum wage in the country has had on small businesses like this. A: In limited service restaurants like this, we found an increase in worker tenure; people were staying on the job longer. And that saves money for restaurants in terms of hiring and recruiting costs. It improves productivity and customer service. They get some savings there. They are absorbing it through a little bit higher prices. For the workers, it means a substantial increase for what they need to get through.
Todd Whitney: What would raising the minimum wage do to mitigate income inequality in the Bay Area?
Q: San Francisco was one of the first cities to raise the minimum wage. What were some of the things that led San Francisco to do that?
Ken Jacobs: So what’s happened in this economy is that we’ve had such strong growth in income at the top, but we’ve had stagnating and declining wages at the bottom. And the minimum wage does a very good job of reaching about the bottom 10 percent of the workforce. In the last 10 years since the S.F. minimum wage law has gone into effect, we estimate over $1.2 billion has gone into the pockets of low-wage workers in San Francisco. One of the big questions is what has it meant for employment whenever these laws are proposed? What you hear is that it’ll be a job killer. As it turns out, in San Francisco, employment has grown at about the same pace or a little bit faster than in the rest of the Bay Area over this time period. And when you look at restaurant employment, it’s actually grown faster. There isn't any evidence of job loss as a result of these laws. OK, so how are employers absorbing these costs? What you do see is a notable decline in turnover; workers are staying on the job longer, and you see a small increase in price. Because the law applies to everybody, restaurants raise their prices. They went up 2.8 percent; a 2.8 percent increase in restaurant costs — you’re basically talking about a dime to a burrito, maybe a little bit more,
A: Some of the same conditions we’re seeing today. In the late ’90s, rents were going up very highly, cost of living was high, and people were being displaced. There was a lot of concern about the issue of low-wage work and people’s ability to survive and support families on what they earned. That was part of a movement across the U.S. as municipalities were taking into their own hands doing measures to improve wages and working conditions, given the lack of action on the federal level. Throughout the Bay Area and California, cities are looking at doing their own efforts to raise the minimum wage. Oakland has a proposal, Berkeley, Richmond and San Diego, too. I think we’re going to see quite a few cities looking at and doing some of the things that San Francisco has done. They stop at McDonald’s at 24th and Mission streets. Q: What is the situation for people working your average fast-food job? A: We look nationally at fast-food restaurants. Wages are so low that over 50 percent of fast-food workers in America and family members have to rely on one or more public assistance programs to make ends meet. Medicaid. Food
stamps. Earned income tax credit. Temporary aid for needy families. … The pay is so low and people often work low hours, they don’t earn enough to survive and support their families. Even those who work full time, more than half of their families rely on some form of public assistance. Q: What are the operating costs of an average restaurant in the Bay Area, like McDonald's? A: Labor is about one-third. Then you have food, rent and all supplies and equipment. We look at fast-food restaurants. Many are franchises. Some are owned by the corporation itself. Some are owned by investors or multiple franchises. Some franchises are owned by a single individual that’s operating it like a small business. Some have biggest cost that’s a franchise fee that they pay to the corporation every month. The small franchise owners are really squeezed in this operation. So their ability on their own to raise wages can be difficult, because the corporation has an amount that it expects to be paid on a regular basis from the franchise owner. The real heavy profits are at the top on the level of corporation. The fast-food industry last year had $7 billion in profits nationally, which is about the same as the $7 billion that we estimate fast-food workers and their families use in public assistance. Whitney asks about the difference between limited service and fast-food restaurants and the ability of the business model to handle an increase in the minimum wage. A: Fast-food restaurants come in different flavors ... Some are owned by corporations, some are owned by large investment groups, some are owned by individual owners. Ones owned by an individual owner are much like a small business but have less variability in their ability to change sources for where they’re getting their food or where they buy their napkins, for example. Rules are set from the top. Ultimately, if we’re going to see a big raise in wages in fast-food restaurants, McDonald’s and big companies are going to have to step up to the plate and deal with that in franchise fees. That said, In-N-Out Burger has always paid higher wages. That’s been built into their model. They do quite well. They’re quite productive. Their workers earn a lot more. And they’re making money. So you can do a fast-food model that involves better wages than are paid at most fast-food restaurants in the U.S.
Ken Jacobs is the chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. Ken Jacobs via Twitter
They stop at 18th and Guerrero streets, a so-called trendy neighborhood, and Jacobs gives his thoughts. A: When you stand in this part of the Mission, you have to remember that as late as 1989, the median wage in San Francisco was lower than the average for the state. We’ve seen tremendous change in San Francisco with the tech industry boom, and more people with money have moved into the city. More service jobs have been created to serve these people. The restaurant industry is one area that tech people patronize. If we have low-wage service jobs, what do those jobs pay? One of the important things about the San Francisco labor standards policy — the living wage law, the health care law, paid sick leave — is to ensure that the new jobs being created are jobs that pay decent wages and provide people with the benefits they need.
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS, FALL 2014 | SPECIAL REPORT ON HOMELESSNESS | SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG | B1
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS
FALL 2014 | SPECIAL REPORT ON HOMELESSNESS| B1
RESIDENCES CLUSTERED NEAR DOWNTOWN
Terrence Smith lived in an encampment under the Bay Bridge for years before he got a call from his case worker saying a supportive housing unit was opening. Now he lives in a modern apartment in SoMa with on-site medical and social services. Photo by Angela Hart // Public Press
Promise of Supportive Housing for Homeless Faces Reality of Short Supply 10 years after pledging to help neediest on the street with ‘housing first,’ City Hall reforming system that leaves clients in dark about a home By Angela Hart // Public Press
or a decade, San Francisco’s answer to homelessness was “housing first.” Get people off the streets and out of shelters, the theory went, and their lives would improve dramatically. But this year, as city officials and social service providers congratulate one another for ticking off many bullet points in an ambitious 10-year plan to “abolish chronic homelessness,” they are facing a stark reality: The situation does not look much better than it did in 2004. Now they are trying to reform a fragmented, overextended public welfare bureaucracy that has not demonstrably reduced homelessness. Thousands of people remain in shelters or on the streets because the city’s supportive housing program does not have enough rooms to go around. Placement into subsidized housing is a messy process in which persistence, luck and likability are important factors. Instead of waiting list, the city has several “access pools.” This means that when people ask for housing, they cannot predict when their names might be chosen. While housing is reserved for the sickest and the most chronically homeless, someone who is sicker than those already on the list can jump to the head of the line. For years, it has been up to city staff to review one case at a time when a vacancy opens up. Nonprofit housing contractors are often in the position of cherry-picking which clients they serve, said caseworkers who work with the formerly homeless. Officially, just under 1,000 people are now assigned to these pools for some form of supportive housing. But city officials say they are not sure how many people are eligible for supportive housing at any one time. Although city agencies have intake files on thousands of candidates for housing, they stop adding names when the access pools are filled up. With only a few hundred spots opening up each year, there is no point in creating larger lists. “Right now, because of the competition for housing, most of what we do is just scramble at vacancies,” said Bevan Dufty, who now runs homelessness programs for the Mayor’s Office of Housing, but lacks direct control over policies and budgets. “We need a system that is better coordinated, and we should be assessing people and placing them in housing that best meets their needs.” Sharon Christen is a housing devel-
oper with the nonprofit Mercy Housing California that under contract with city agencies manages 33 housing sites. She said supportive housing programs have few openings. “When they’ve gotten to us, they’ve won the lottery,” she said. But those who leave the streets through the city’s programs often land in neighborhoods plagued by poverty and crime. To control costs, the city established most supportive housing in converted singleroom occupancy hotels in the Tenderloin and other areas where the drug trade was rampant. But one side effect is that it has made it easier for people with addiction to relapse. Nonprofit care professionals say formerly homeless people who need help with more than just housing often end up in residences that cannot provide them with adequate security, psychological support, medicine, life-skills training or conflict mediation. Caseworkers are often burdened with
“Right now, because of the competition for housing, most of what we do is just scramble at vacancies.” Bevan Dufty homeless programs director, mayor’s office heavy caseloads. Once housed, the city signs contracts with six primary nonprofit housing organizations, which are required to link tenants with caseworkers. The nonprofits also employ front-desk clerks and property managers. While city agencies do not require providers to report how many caseworkers or support staff are assigned to tenants once they receive housing, representatives at eight of 10 nonprofit organizations reported caseloads ranging from 25 to 110. Even though city departments do not track data on the number of caseworkers per building, a survey of the nonprofits that operate nearly 3,000 units scattered around the city found that in at least three buildings, a single caseworker supervises more than 100 people. Experts in supportive housing say industry best practice is one caseworker per 30 residents. The biggest structural challenge to getting homeless adults into the right housing is that two big city departments, the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Agency, run parallel
referral systems. They do not share client lists, making it hard for people to move among different types of residences with a variety of supportive services. While Mayor Ed Lee this summer proclaimed the 10-year plan a success, behind the scenes his administration has been working since at least February to reform the system to make sure it better triages placements based on need. Roughly half of the city’s housing providers are planning to roll out a new computer system to sort applications according to the severity of the illness of the applicants. Some housing organizations are also starting to use a tiered model to match the neediest clients with the most intensively supervised facilities. A common intake form would also streamline referrals from street outreach workers, hospitals and drop-in clinics. But it is unclear what difference that will make for clients stuck in a murky access pool. With about 95 percent of tenants in some of these programs staying housed each year, opportunities to leave the streets are rare because low turnover results in few vacancies. The city has invested heavily in its housing-first approach over the last decade, expending roughly $200 million each year for all homeless programs. But this has not cured homelessness in San Francisco. Counting the homeless is a notoriously difficult challenge, but Harvey Rose, the city auditor, said the best data show 7,300 people in 2013 — not drastically different from the 8,640 recorded 10 years ago. The city’s most common defense is that things would have been much worse without its efforts to get chronically homeless adults indoors. The mayor’s office said the city placed 11,362 people in permanent supportive housing in a decade. Those who have received their own space behind lock and key at least get the chance for a recovery. Still, there are many more losers than winners in the complex competition for basic housing. For three years, a talented tenor whose voice earned him the street name Opera, and his girlfriend, Melinda Welsch, have sought a placement from the city, they said. Most nights, the couple sleep in and around the Civic Center BART station, and sometimes are roused from their sleep — depending on the mood of the police.
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San Francisco now has more than 110 residences for people transitioning out of homelessness — mostly in the Tenderloin and Mission District. While the city was able to expand supportive housing quickly by converting rooms in residential hotels and building new structures, the concentration in poor neighborhoods is less than ideal for those recovering from mental illness and drug abuse. Map by Darin Jensen // UC Berkeley CAGE Lab, research by Paayal Zaveri // Public Press SOURCES: Human Services Agency, Department of Public Health, Mayor’s Office of Housing.
Formerly Homeless Residents Face Higher Rate of Evictions Than Other Tenants in S.F. By Paayal Zaveri // Public Press
ulia Smith sat on an overturned crate for five hours outside Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin, hoping to reserve a bed in a homeless shelter. She was reeling from the experience just two days earlier of losing a coveted spot in a city-subsidized supportive housing program. The supervised living space in a residential hotel in SoMa was supposed to be permanent, and represented a route to stability and health. With a history of severe depression, Smith, 64, said the threat of returning to the streets scared her. “I try to keep a positive attitude,” Smith said. “Living on the street, it takes its toll.” Tenants in the supportive housing system, especially those who possess debilitating mental or physical handicaps, too often face the threat of eviction, staff and tenants said. Residents in these facilities make up a disproportionately large slice of those who seek legal assistance to fight eviction threats. The Eviction Defense Collaborative provided this service to 1,913 people last year. Tyler Macmillan, the group’s executive director, said that 389 of them, or 20 percent of the total, were living in supportive housing at the time. By contrast, only about 1 percent of renters citywide live in these residences. “They got housing because they have mental illness, and then they lost their housing because they have mental illness,” said Kara Zordel, executive director of
Project Homeless Connect, which offers free services to people without housing. Many supportive housing residents face eviction for nonpayment of rent. Tenants often rely heavily on government assistance, including Social Security disability. To keep the checks coming, they continually meet with a caseworker. But if a tenant misses a meeting, because of a debilitating injury, for example, or a sudden bout of depression, it could mean interruption in payments and loss of housing. The prevalence of mental illness can make it hard for formerly homeless people to adjust to supportive housing because they often have trouble caring for themselves. “Many of these people are coming into housing after being homeless for many years and have faced years of trauma,” said Michael Gause, deputy director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. “It takes time to get acclimated again to housing.” Personal disputes often snowball out of control. In the months before her departure, Smith came into increasing conflict with her building’s manager at the Canon Kip Community House, a converted singleroom occupancy hotel on Natoma Street in SoMa. Smith said the manager refused to pay to fix her heater, even though it had been broken when she moved in. When Smith stopped paying rent in response, the manager threatened to evict
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THOUGHTS ON HOMELESSNESS
Lieutenant governor of California, former S.F. Mayor
Q-and-A: Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on San Francisco Jail System S.F. jail increasingly looks like a psychiatric institution Interview by Rebecca Rosen Lum // Public Press
“This is one of the big issues that got me into politics. I was really fed up because people were dying on the streets, emergency rooms were overwhelmed every night. It was the issue for decades of mayors, but it’s not anymore. There’s been zero accountability.”
BARBARA GARCIA Director, S.F. Department of Public Health
hile the overall inmate population in San Francisco is declining, the percentage of inmates with serious mental health problems — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder and others — has climbed. From 2004 to 2013, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi says, the time psychiatric staff has had to spend with inmates nearly doubled. Evaluations, medication planning, therapy, discharge planning and case management — what the jails call units of service — soared from 40,000 to 72,000 over a decade. In February, when Mayor Ed Lee convened a task force of mental health leaders to generate ideas for treating the drug-addicted and mentally ill homeless population, Mirkarimi showed up uninvited. He said the city has failed to appreciate that the jails have become, “the largest mental hospital in the city.” The San Francisco Public Press sat down with Mirkarimi twice to talk about how the jails are dealing with a more seriously ill inmate population. What follows is a selection of his responses. Q: You said the city has not yet recognized the burden the jails are carrying. What’s going on? Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi: What’s called for is a master plan. The municipal criminal justice leaders have been focusing on recidivism. They’re doing much better. The homeless are cited and released quickly. But they don’t have a han-
dle on the mentally ill population. Our jails should not be a substitute for mental health treatment. Absent a comprehensive citywide plan, the knee-jerk response is to criminalize mental illness. Q: Is the mayor paying attention to these issues? A: It was a mistake that he just blessed the new San Francisco General Hospital without new psychiatric units. Any time a new hospital is built, it should have to provide psych beds. We have the new California Pacific Medical Center that has no psych beds. I met with the mayor’s staff. This When the city jail at 850 Bryant St. is torn down, the replacement building will have an updated psychiatric unit. should be a very top priority of the Photo by Anna Vignet // Public Press city. I know we can do better. We’ve got Mobile Assistance reason for doing that is 80 percent required by the state of our deputy Q: The governor talks about Patrol. You can call 311 and they’ll of the people who leave our custody sheriffs, who work the jails and the need for mental health sersend out the MAP — which is a have no health insurance, or access attend to post-release populations vices and doing it through relousy, hit-and-miss approach to or resources to health insurance. with mental illness, by instituting alignment — moving inmates dealing with mentally ill homeless. Critical Incident Training. I want from state to local responsibilWe must be looking for a permaQ: What’s the difference to make it mandatory. ity. That hasn’t translated into nent solution. There needs to be between the main city jail at dollars? more of a continuum of care. 850 Bryant St., which will be Q: Do you work with other city replaced with a seismically agencies? A: It hasn’t translated. I met with Q: Some inmates with mental secure facility, and the city’s the governor about this very issue illnesses were homeless before other jail in San Bruno? A: The Department of Public with some of the other elected their arrest, sleeping in stairHealth, San Francisco General sheriffs from around the state. I wells, storefronts, elevators A: 850 Bryant is a stark, inhuHospital and Jail Psychiatric Serasked him point-blank: What is and under cardboard. At San mane, deplorable building. When vices link up with Healthright360. after realignment? We want to Bruno Jail, they sleep indoors, I came into office, the proposal We have a very focused intake and understand what is going to be his eat regular meals, learn yoga, was to replace it with 903 beds, scripted regimen for somebody priority in this next term. participate in recovery proand I said that that’s unnecessary, who’s suffering from mental illness grams, engage therapy and get far too big. And so, the plan was for while they’re in our custody, Q: Is there an alternative fundmedication. replaced with 640 beds. It will and discharge planning for when ing source? be a facility unlike any facility, they’re about to be released. A: Our jail psychiatric services in downtown San Francisco. It’s I really think we need to up A: We appealed to the mayor and are hands-on. San Francisco is reabout accommodating a smaller our game in preparing them for the Board of Supervisors to go in nowned for its psychiatric therapy population with a more humane release. And that is really the overthis direction, and that just did and medication therapy. We’re detention facility, with a lot more arching strategy that I’m trying to not happen. One thing we want the first county jail system in the emphasis on re-entry and rehabiliinstitute here. to do is go beyond what I think is country to be qualified to sign up tation programming. the insufficient training that is people under Obamacare. And the
Sentencing Reform Side Benefit: Behavioral Health Court Expansion Reduced sentences for felonies could redirect millions to alternative legal programs “We’ve seen reductions in hospitalizations with individuals who have been placed in units. We accomplished that because our health department has a housing component — we’re one of the first.”
Mayor of San Francisco
“We know chronic homelessness has not been abolished, and we know more needs to be done, but we will continue to make up the necessary investments in the people of San Francisco for everyone that calls our city home and keep San Francisco families in their homes.”
Attorney, former president of the Board of Supervisors
“We don’t prevent homelessness, we create it. The key to ending homelessness is funding mental health care – it’s so obvious. We need to be putting more money into permanent supportive housing.” Illustrations by Anna Vignet // Public Press
By Sanne Bergh // Public Press
n effort to reform California’s prisons by reducing tough sentences for some felonies could also provide a financial windfall to a long-running community court experiment that diverts people with mental illness out of the criminal justice system. State Proposition 47 on the November ballot aims to provide millions of dollars in savings by reclassifying six felonies as misdemeanors, allowing the state to move thousands of prisoners back into the community under supervision. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that 65 percent of $100 million to $300 million would be redirected to the expansion of community-based services that would also help people with mental illnesses. The savings would be directly generated from freeing up 10,000 to 30,000 jail beds across the state. The reform’s wording cites the success of mental health courts, including San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court as worthwhile programs. But state officials say it is too soon to tell whether San Francisco would be able to take advantage of the program. It is unclear how quickly the court could expand beyond the 150 or so clients who get guidance through existing treatment and housing programs. San Francisco’s court, which now operates on $2.5 million a year, not including treatment costs, could complement the sentencing reform measure. The court, which operates just two days a week, calls itself “collaborative,” because it invites social service providers to offer guidance and medical support. Many of the Behavioral Health Court’s defendants struggle with marginal housing or homelessness, said Jennifer Johnson, an assistant public defender assigned to indigent clients. Successful “graduation” from the program means independent living and securing permanent housing. The court reports that it has reduced recidivism and graduated 47 percent of exiting clients in 2013. While it does not appear different from a typical courtroom at the Superior Court House on Bryant Street, the Behavioral Health Court is unique because participants are closely monitored and treated with special care. Judge Ronald E. Albers provides what he calls an “incentive program.” Participants applaud each other. Progress toward personal goals merits movie tickets or prizes. Albers said mentally ill defendants are not treated well in the criminal justice system overall. Johnson helped start the court in 2002 as a response to a growing population of prisoners with mental illness. She said it is difficult to help many defendants because they face felony rather than misdemeanor charges. The court also faces institutional challenges because financial constraints keep it from operating on a larger scale. Albers requires close supervision for a minimum of one year. Defendants must appear regularly before a judge and document that they are receiving treatment, including Alcoholics Anonymous or group therapy. In all instances, defendants’ medication intake
is monitored. Defendants have both positive and negative experiences at the Behavioral Health Court, said Leah Jacobs, a doctoral student at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, who has interviewed participants as part of her social work research. She said requirements attached to alternative sentencing “either exacerbated mental health problems or precluded participation in other activities intended to help the person get back on their feet.” Jacobs said her research suggests that the social welfare and judicial functions of the state should be kept separate. “But if Prop. 47 is actually funneling funds previously spent on incarcerating these individuals to community-based services, we may see this dissipate.” The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has been struggling for years to treat a population of inmates who suffer from serious mental illness. About 40 percent of inmates get some kind of treatment or assessment from Jail Behavioral Health Services, and 15 percent receive medication. Expanding the Behavioral Health Court would keep more people with mental illness from returning to jail. The Behavioral Health Court reported that it sees overall reduced recidivism in participants, and that each saves the state about $10,000 in jailing costs. Nearly two-thirds of the proposed savings from Proposition 47 would go to the Board of State and Community Corrections. Tracie Cone, board spokeswoman, said that she does not know whether the mental health court would benefit financially from the savings and that the board has not decided how to allocate funds. However, the budget brief analysis cites mental health and drug courts as intervention programs that demonstrate low re-arrest rates, programs much like the ones the board has backed in the past. Shorter sentences would reduce expenses for prisons and jails. Some savings would be directed to school truancy prevention programs, mental health and drug abuse programs, and other services designed to reduce jail populations, according to a budget brief from the California Budget Project. The measure redefines as misdemeanors several crimes that are now felonies, including personal drug use, shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud and writing bad checks not exceeding $950. Check forgery and possession of stolen property are currently known as “wobbler” crimes — those that can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. The reform would allow for the resentencing of already convicted felons. That could qualify a larger group of criminals for Behavioral Health Court, which has overseen, at most, 150 misdemeanor defendants a year since 2002. The money would not go to court directly but to affiliated programs, including Jail Psychiatry Services, Citywide Case Management, the District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Public Health, among other intervention services affiliated with the Behavioral Health Court. The savings will be appropriated into a fund designated for the Board of State and
Kim Knoble got a second chance when she was spared from a tough jail sentence for injuring a man on a bus. Photo by Anna Vignet // Public Press
S.F. Alternative Court Provides Lifeline By Lisa Weinzimer // Public Press
ive years ago, Kim Knoble said, she was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder while living in a substanceabuse recovery center. Angry and frustrated with her treatment, she fled the program and landed on the streets of the Tenderloin. Two years later, Knoble got a revised diagnosis: schizoaffective disorder. As opposed to schizophrenia, which refers to disordered thoughts, schizoaffective disorder affects both thoughts and moods. A new course of medication helped — for a while. Feeling better, Knoble said, she felt she no longer needed to take it. Within days of stopping the medication, Knoble became agitated and once again had trouble organizing her thoughts. One day, she pushed an elderly man off a bus in Chinatown. He fell on his head. Though the victim survived, Knoble faced a five-year prison term. While in jail, her attorney told her about San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Court. Defendants can participate if a judge determines that their crimes are spurred by serious mental disorders. Instead of prison sentences, participants receive community mental-health treatment and close supervision. Between 350 and 400 courts have been established across the country.
Community Corrections. Collaborative courts and other problemsolving court systems combine judicial supervision with rehabilitation. In San Francisco, these include Drug Court, Dependency
Estimates of people in jails and prisons with serious mental illness vary, depending which illnesses are deemed serious. In one survey cited by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in 2012, 17 percent of 20,000 adults booked into five U.S. jails met criteria for a serious mental illness. The justice center, a nonprofit policy think tank based in New York, noted that post-traumatic stress disorder was not considered a serious mental illness. In a survey by the U.S. Justice Department, 16 percent of state inmates were estimated to have a serious mental illness. For Knoble, at least, staying out of jail proved to be the right outcome. She was ordered to appear in court once a month, meet with her case manager twice a month and prove she was sober. She is still paying restitution to the old man on the bus for medical expenses. While her official prison sentence has not been reduced, Knoble said her lawyer is seeking a reduction to misdemeanor once her probation ends in June 2015. Now Knoble has a full-time job and has returned to one of her passions: playing the violin. Until recently she also served as a peer educator for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. “This program saved my life,” Knoble said. Otherwise, “I’d still be in prison right now.”
Drug Court and Juvenile Reentry Court. The savings would deposit into the fund beginning August 2016. “It’d be a gamechanger for sure,” Cone said.
SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC PRESS, FALL 2014 | SPECIAL REPORT ON HOMELESSNESS | SFPUBLICPRESS.ORG | B3
THOUGHTS ON HOMELESSNESS
JENNY FRIEDENBACH Director, Coalition on Homelessness
“We always agreed with the housing first policy. But the idea to prioritize one population based on length of homelessness never seemed like a good idea to us. It creates barriers for people. As people are homeless for longer periods of time, the trauma of living on the streets causes other health complications – whether it’s mental health or physical health or addictive disorders.”
CAPTION FOR THESE GO HERE
Director, homelessness programs, S.F. mayor’s office
The Gubbio Project at St. Boniface Church in the Tenderloin provides a rare daytime sanctuary for the weary, who gather in the pews to sleep. Photos by Anna Vignet // Public Press
How Homelessness Can Compromise Mental Health Studies show insecure housing can create or aggravate psychological problems By Evelyn Wang // Public Press
ife on the streets is filled with dangers and uncertainties that can have dire consequences for mental health. Studies have shown that homelessness can cause some people to develop disorders or exacerbate existing illnesses in others. The shelter system, a key element in San Francisco’s strategy for addressing homelessness, is far from a perfect solution. Not only are the shelters difficult for those with mental illness to navigate, the shelter environment could also make their problems worse. Like many other cities, San Francisco has embraced a “housing first” policy, pulling people off the streets as a first step to address their other physical, behavioral and psychological challenges. But while the capacity of the city’s supportive housing network has doubled in the past decade, there is still not enough room for thousands of eligible people. Living without housing exposes people to constant stress, said Ellen Bassuk, senior adviser and founder of the National Center on Family Homelessness. They face sleep deprivation, exposure, fears about personal safety, loss of family and friends, the absence of routine and social stigma.
“It’s a horrible way to live, and whatever emotional issues you have are going to be exacerbated,” Bassuk said. “Let’s say you’re a single with diabetes. How are you going to manage that on the street? You can’t.” Being homeless can cause some people to develop mental and emotional disorders for the first time. A 2011 study examined the mental health of more than 4,000 people before and after they became homeless in Melbourne, Australia. Researchers found that 16 percent of those people developed disorders after they landed on the streets. In San Francisco, people experiencing homelessness tell a similar tale. One woman living on the streets, Teresa, 53, said she became depressed after losing her job and home three years ago. She spent sleepless nights wandering from neighborhood to neighborhood to avoid violence, theft and cold. She developed back pain and swollen feet and had trouble taking care of basic necessities like washing her clothes. She felt like a failure. “You’re just left to the elements,” said Teresa, who did not give her last name for fear that it would hurt her chances to re-enter the workforce. “You don’t feel like
you’re part of society. People treat you like a second- or third-class citizen.” Young people may be especially sensitive to trauma associated with homelessness. The Melbourne study found that 78 percent of those who developed mental illnesses after losing their homes were between the ages of 12 and 24. Another study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2005, compared children who had a home with those who did not. It concluded that the homeless children were twice as likely to have learning disabilities or repeat a grade in school, and that 1 in 3 homeless children develops a major mental disorder by age 8. An estimated 130,000 children in the U.S. live either in homeless shelters or on the streets, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Likewise, a stable permanent home can improve someone’s health. In a 2006 study, researchers compared the rates at which 236 San Francisco residents, who had originally been homeless, sought medical care before and after being placed in supportive housing. After about a year off the streets, the group’s total number of
emergency room visits dropped by 56 percent. Emergency room visits rose again for those who lost this housing. For those toughing it out in the shelter system, daily inconveniences can contribute to chronic stress. The Coalition on Homelessness, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, criticized the system in a 2007 paper titled “Shelter Shock.” It said the shelters were difficult to navigate, offered an uncomfortable environment and were especially challenging for those with mental illness. The organization said shelter staff sometimes provoked clients to act out, providing reasons to expel them. The paper also called conditions in some shelters, where people sleep on the floor within a few feet of each other, “intolerable for someone with psychiatric disorder.” “Shelters are congregate living environments,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the organization’s executive director. “For many people who suffer from mental illnesses, it’s not an appropriate placement.” Friedenbach said the report prompted the city to establish higher standards of care. Violations are now supposed to be reported to the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee.
The city’s biggest innovation is a new 311 telephone reservation system. But shelter conditions have largely remained the same because of lack of funding and poor staff training, said Nicholas Kimura, chair of the committee. But Teresa, the woman who has been homeless for three years, said shelters were a huge improvement over the street — despite noisy nights, thin blankets and misbehaving neighbors. Staff did not bother clients, she said, as long as they followed the rules. The biggest problem was the rigid schedule. To reserve a one-day bed, she had to take a number at 8:30 a.m., then come back at 3:30 p.m. for a list of bed reservations, and then again at 5:30 p.m. to see if she got her bed. The constant back-and-forth made it difficult for her to hunt for a job, and strict rules about late passes (only school, work or religious services are approved) meant she had to skip vital networking events. “It’s definitely not housing in any shape or form,” Kimura said. “Housing is stable. Housing is safe. Things don’t get stolen in housing. Unfortunately, the shelter system is a different story.”
Schizophrenia Diagnosis Puts People First in Line for Benefits
“I find in my experience that people are willing to accept housing, but it has to work for them. Right now, it’s not working for so many. If someone has to leave their partner or their dog or their grocery cart of belongings for housing, that’s not working.”
San Francisco County sheriff
“More and more people are now coming into the jail system, and it has been that way for years. We are really in effect the largest mental health hospital in the city and county of San Francisco. If you ask people on the street if they knew that or not, I bet they’d be a little surprised.”
Local agencies hope Social Security will extend pilot program By Lisa Weinzimer // Public Press
eople whose mental illnesses have made them homeless have a hard time getting the disability benefits they are owed, in part because they may lack the mental organization to advocate for themselves and navigate the complexity of the system. At the Social Security office, they face long waiting times and red tape. Application reviews can take months. This year, Social Security completed a pilot program, launched in 2012, that gives homeless people with schizophrenia presumptive qualification for Supplemental Security Income benefits. The program, pioneered in San Francisco and a handful of other California cities, essentially puts these people at the head of the line. With the end of the experiment in April, some social service agencies were left wondering whether the valuable service would continue. The Homeless With Schizophrenia Presumptive Pilot Demonstration allowed staff to quickly make an initial diagnosis of schizophrenia. Those enrolled in the program received Social Security benefits within 10 days, rather than experiencing a wait time of six months or longer. Staff at the San Francisco Department of
Public Health and Human Services Agency identified clients and helped them complete applications for benefits. Conard House, a nonprofit homeless support agency, became a “representative payee” for the clients, helping to manage their finances. Richard Heasley, executive director of Conard House, said one participant in San Francisco, who had been homeless for 15 years without any financial assistance, applied through the program, received immediate benefits and then permanent eligibility within six months. In San Francisco, all 78 participants in the demonstration project received presumptive payments. Of those, 68 were awarded permanent benefits. The project started in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, and expanded to Los Angeles. Thomas Neill, director of client health services for the city's Human Services Agency, said the pilot program made a crucial difference for a vulnerable population. “If you have somebody with a serious mental disorder, they’re likely not in a stable living situation,” Neill said. “Perhaps they’re homeless, living on the street or in a shelter. They’re under greater stress, they’re more likely to decompensate and have greater difficulty following through and completing the application.”
If people facing those circumstances can get approved for presumptive benefits and housing, it becomes easier for agencies to assist them, and they are more likely to follow through with applications for permanent benefits, he said. In California, benefits from Supplemental Security Income — the program that pays disability income benefits based on financial need — amount to about $900 monthly. That is roughly double the benefits offered by San Francisco’s own cash benefits program. Social Security disability beneficiaries need to pay either a percentage of their payments or a fixed amount toward housing. Under San Francisco’s nearly decade-old Care Not Cash program, most of the city’s monthly cash benefit of $461 goes back to the city to provide housing. The cash portion comes to just $59. Social Security expects to complete its evaluation of the pilot program in early 2015, said Patricia Raymond, a spokeswoman for the agency’s San Francisco regional office. Barbara Garcia, director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, said at a hearing on homelessness early this year that city agencies prodded U.S. officials to start the program.
“It took seven years for the federal government to acknowledge that those with schizophrenia would have a hard time getting through our system,” including all the paperwork needed to attain benefits, Garcia said. But she expressed hope that if the program succeeds in San Francisco that it “is also shared throughout the country.” The collaboration with nonprofit social service organizations to hold the money for clients would have been valuable for Kim Knoble, who after a long period of suffering, recovered and for a while was a peer educator with the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. When Knoble was living on the streets of the Tenderloin, she often spent her Social Security disability benefits on a shopping spree or a hotel room for the night — leaving her penniless for most of the month. “I was manic, so I wasn’t even able to understand that you’re supposed to hold the money and spend it on resourceful items, as opposed to blowing it, which is what I did,” Knoble said. “Many months, I didn’t have shoes on my feet.” Now, her life is stable and she has a fulltime job.
San Francisco supervisor, District 2
“We have a moral imperative to do all in our power to continue to end homelessness. Our city has made tremendous progress, but we know there are still far too many living on our streets and shelters with no place to call home.”
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How San Francisco Places Homeless Into Supportive Housing
Two city departments run similar programs focused on getting people off the streets and into housing. Audits of San Francisco’s homelessness programs say that the demand for permanent supportive housing far outstrips supply. More than 7,000 people are homeless today; only a few hundred spaces in housing become available each year.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH ACCESS POINTS • • • • • • •
Homeless shelter Homeless Outreach Team S.F. General Hospital acute, primary or psychological care clinic Sobering center Behavioral Health Roving Team Laguna Honda skilled nursing facility Housing Opportunity, Partnership & Engagement program
Limited to between 300 and 700 people at any time. Inclusion is based on subjective assessment by health department staff. The current system places clients in no particular order, and gives clients them no clear indication how long they can expect to wait for housing.
If supportive housing fits the client’s needs, and the department approves, the client is referred to the Direct Access to Housing program. Once linked with a case manager, monthly check-ins are required to remain eligible.
Clients with the greatest needs, including those deemed “high users of multiple services,” are considered first.
MORE THAN 110 DISTRIBUTED HOUSING SITES
Referral team recommends clients when apartments become vacant, based on their specific needs and past opportunities for supportive housing. Providers can refuse to accept clients deemed bad matches.
Supportive housing was built quickly in the last 10 years, with the advent of former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s signature program, Care Not Cash. Nearly all of them are in the Central City area, including the Tenderloin, and the Mission District. Many are in single-room-occupancy hotels that have been rented out by the city and managed by nonprofit housing contractors. Subcontractors provide everything from security to medical care to psychotherapy.
The city also maintains 280 “stabilization units” in single-room occupancy hotels, with intensive care management. The application process is streamlined, and no payment is required.
OTHER PERMANENT HOUSING • • •
Primary nonprofit housing organizations: Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Mercy Housing, Community Housing Partnership and Bridge Housing Corp.
Residential hotels San Francisco Housing Authority and federal Section 8 program U.S. Housing and Urban Development subsidized buildings Living with friends or family Market-rate housing
REMOVED FROM POOL? A client can be removed from the pool after 90 days if no contact is made with the case worker.
? ACCESS POOL
HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY ACCESS POINTS • • • • •
At last count this pool contained 422 people, most of whom were sleeping in homeless shelters. But more than 1,000 other shelter beds are filled every night by people who are not in the pool — leaving them no chance of getting permanent supportive housing when it becomes available.
Once linked with a case manager, clients in the shelter system are prioritized for permanent supportive housing if a unit becomes available.
Homeless shelter Homeless Outreach Team Transitional housing site Homeless resource center Housing Opportunity, Partnership & Engagement program
POSSIBLE FUNDING SOURCES
When a funding source is identified for the unit, nonprofit housing organizations that run sites decide who gets in by negotiating with the city. Case managers try to fit clients with the population at each housing site based on length of homelessness, acuteness of mental health or other disabling conditions.
SHELTER PLUS CARE: Federal funding the Human Services Agency
uses for permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities. LOCAL OPERATING SUBSIDY PROGRAM: The city supplements outside supportive housing funds from the city general fund. CARE NOT CASH: Voter-approved mandate reduces local welfare payments to no more than $62 from a maximum of $444, to pay for supportive housing. Benefits also reduced for those waiting in shelters. NON-CARE NOT CASH: Other local funds that pay for supportive housing for the homeless.
City agencies say that up to 95 percent of clients in supportive housing programs remain in their units each year, suggesting that for most, it is “permanent.” But others can lose their spots for a variety of reasons: • Behavioral problems • Institutionalization • Nonpayment of rent • Imprisonment
Research by Angela Hart, Noah Arroyo and Michael Stoll. Illustration by Erika Rae Langdon // Public Press. Graphics by Patrick Sean Gibson // @patrickseangibson
With shortage of housing for homeless, more than 4,000 have no access to a bed, much less a door that locks SUPPORTIVE continued from B1
But their friend, Terrence Smith, lucked out. He had lived on the streets for more than a decade, most recently in the Tenderloin. “I remember when I got the call, it didn’t sound real,” he said. “For years, I slept out here. I got to the point where I didn’t care about nothing.” Smith, 46, said he was always comfortable on the streets and survived on about $700 per month in disability pay. “I was wearing the same clothes for five, six days in a row,” he said, “I hadn’t shaved in weeks. I was in a bad place.” Then his number came up. In December Smith was selected as the first tenant at the new Rene Cazenave Apartments, a bright, eight-story, 120-unit building in South of Market for people with severe mental illnesses, substance abuse problems or other complicated health issues. Smith, who has bipolar disorder and HIV, was meeting with a caseworker regularly and getting medical treatment. But it was hard for him to stay on his medications and remain psychologically stable while living in a homeless encampment near the Bay Bridge and in shelters. The new apartment, he said, “saved my life.” WHO DESERVES HOUSING? Candidates for supportive housing programs get referrals through institutions frequented by the homeless, such as the San Francisco General Hospital emergency room, the county jail or psychiatric hospitals. But most of those deemed eligible never get off the streets. At the Department of Public Health, the supportive housing access pool is capped when it grows too large, and after that only clients with the toughest cases get in. The department has adjusted the cap repeatedly. In January 2013, the pool had 700 names. At that time, only about 30 housing slots opened each month. A year later, the pool reopened, but it closed six months later, after swelling again to 700. In September, public health staff said the pool had 500 names. By October that estimate had fallen to about 300, said Margot Antonetty, director of housing and urban health under the Department of Public Health. City officials said they had no way of knowing how many people were waiting for housing. In part, that was because the city and the permanent supportive housing providers it funds mostly phased out chronological wait-
ing lists starting in 2005, and adopted a more complex system that requires city staff to make subjective evaluations and negotiate with site managers over where to place each person. “We have learned to close our referral pool when it gets that high because we assess by need in terms of assigning the units,” Antonetty said. “You can’t track people at all times in terms of what their need is like when it gets higher than 500.” The process of getting into the access pool is haphazard. Case managers are sometimes influential in advocating for a client to get into an access pool. Those deemed eligible for housing can be skipped over when a needier client appears. Candidates are judged by city staff on how many city services they use, including the emergency room, Laguna Honda Hospital’s Psychiatric Emergency Services unit and the Homeless Outreach Team that regularly canvasses the people living on the street. Caseworkers then contact city officials or nonprofit managers, who select which clients they want to offer spaces based on the level of need and services available in their buildings. Because caseworkers try to ensure tenants match the character of each site, providers are sometimes motivated to accept residents who will cause the fewest problems, making it hard for the most troubled clients to find housing. Advocates for the homeless say the lack of predictability complicates an already difficult existence for prospective tenants, particularly those suffering from mental illness who have difficulty organizing their thoughts and advocating for themselves. “It’s all part of a negotiation from the very beginning,” said Christen, the developer with Mercy Housing. “We’re going to get referrals, and we determine whether we can take that person based on the services we have, but we don’t really have the capacity to deal with people who are super high need.” Antonetty said the biggest need in reforming the system is to make sure those in need get priority. Waiting lists do not work, but the current setup is not perfect. “We needed to centralize our access system,” she said, “but the question was how do we do that and continue to prioritize those who are the hardest to serve or to reach.” BOTTOMLESS POOL There is clearly not enough supportive housing in San Francisco to rescue everyone from the streets. Of 7,350 homeless identified last year, 4,315 did not have access to a temporary bed. Rapidly rising rents across the city in the last three years have made it only more costly for the city to expand these real estate investments. In dozens of interviews with housing providers in recent months, city workers, contractors, social service providers and people formerly living in homelessness said the city never had the money or the staffing to provide housing for everyone who needs it. “The demand for this type of housing far outstrips the supply,” said Don Falk, executive director of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation. The nonprofit housing developer manages 2,500 housing units in San Francisco, one-quarter of which are for the chronically homeless. “We turn away people routinely,” Falk said. “We field queries every day from people looking for housing, and we can rarely accommodate anyone new.” The whole homeless services infrastructure, in fact, has
need of help,” Wood said. “His viral load was out of control, and he hadn’t been to the doctor in years. Like most African American men, Terrence had severe mistrust for doctors. There’s such a stigma associated with HIV and AIDS that we have to do whatever we can to get through. That, mixed with poverty, was making life nearly impossible for him.” Woods put Smith on a strict mental and medical regimen. He gave him Safeway gift cards for food so he could eat healthily, even though he was sleeping outdoors. “It took awhile to get through to Terrence,” Woods said. “We had to stabilize him — get him to understand the importance of adhering to his medication schedule. But the most important thing I think we did is get him into housing.” Woods worked his connections at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Department of Public Health to find Smith housing. That gave Smith the drive to follow up on housing applications with housing providers in the Tenderloin, sometimes inquiring in person after praying at St. Boniface. At his monthly appointment, Smith embraced Woods, telling him, “You’re like a father figure to me.” Outside the clinic, he lit a joint and elaborated: “Sherman tells me to calm down when I’m having a bipolar moment. He helps me keep my appointments. I gave up on all this before I met him.” Smith is also fortunate to have help in his apartment building. At the Rene Cazenave, four case managers tend to the needs of 120 formerly homeless tenants — a ratio of 30 to 1. The bright, modern building is staffed with a fulltime nurse and a part-time psychiatrist to help administer medications. Terrence Smith said his caseworker, Sherman Woods, saved his life by finding him housing after years of living on the streets (above). Smith hangs out with friends in the Mid-Market area (right and below).
Smith takes lunch at St. Anthony’s soup kitchen in the Tenderloin (above). His disability checks total $394.90 after rent is deducted (left). Smith socializes outside Lutheran Social Services on Eighth and Folsom streets after picking up his payment (below).
Photos by Angela Hart // Public Press
Photos by Angela Hart // Public Press
been bursting at the seams at every level for years. The roughly 1,500 shelter beds at four primary emergency shelter sites throughout the city are at capacity. “Our shelters are 98 percent full every night,” Dufty said. “And even with 3,000 new units, it’s clear that we do not have enough permanent supportive housing. I agree that there’s far more people waiting.” What is clear is that after the Great Recession stalled San Francisco’s economy, the subsequent tech boom attracted a wealthy demographic, exacerbating the divide between rich and poor. A study this year by the Brookings Institution found that San Francisco has experienced the greatest increase in income inequality in 35 years. “In San Francisco, skyrocketing housing costs may increasingly preclude low-income residents from living in the city altogether,” the report’s authors concluded. With real estate prices rising, the city has had trouble acquiring and building more supportive housing. Over a decade, San Francisco departments and private housing developers have built or acquired 2,699 permanent supportive housing units for the chronically homeless; 407 additional units are scheduled to come online by 2017. Beyond that, the city has not officially committed to spending additional money to build or purchase new permanent supportive housing units. It allocated $29 million this year to fund other homelessness services, such as eviction prevention, housing services for transitional-age youth and mental health care, according to the mayor’s office. The housing crunch has created a bottleneck, because
people living in subsidized housing of all kinds rarely leave by choice. The city’s waiting list for federal Section 8 low-income housing reached capacity years ago and remains closed. Harvey Rose, the city auditor, said in a report last year that housing scarcity was undercutting the intended health and economic benefits that made the housing-first policy attractive. “There is a limited supply of permanent supportive housing, and it is often obtained by one person at the exclusion of another,” Rose wrote, adding that city staff must reserve spaces for “the extremely vulnerable.” Homelessness, Rose concluded, is a moving target that eludes easy fixes: “The effect of the city’s permanent supportive housing production on the size of the homeless population is unknown, as the number of homeless persons might have grown larger in the absence of these new supportive housing units.” And so thousands wait, in bare-bones shelters at night, concentrated in the city’s grittiest neighborhoods. Social workers who reach out to these populations say these con-
ditions contribute to more addiction and mental illnesses. A LIFE RECLAIMED The Tenderloin is eight-by-eight blocks of prime real estate in the heart of the city. Protected by strict zoning and housing affordability laws, it has become a haven for the homeless. Nearby, construction cranes dot the skyline. A rough count in early May tallied 14 buildings in the core of the city that were under construction. In the Tenderloin, people live in poverty, but find access to an array of services – from methadone treatment, to free lunch at St. Anthony’s, to a safe place to sleep at St. Boniface Catholic Church during daylight hours. Most days, at the church, more than 100 people sleep sprawled on the floor and in pews amid a faint fog of incense until the late afternoon. Terrence Smith spends most of his days in the Tenderloin. He gets free lunch at St. Anthony’s soup kitchen and catches up with friends on street corners. He spends a lot of time scrounging up money for cigarettes or a burger.
The Rene Cazenave Apartments, in SoMa, has 120 units overseen by the Department of Public Health dedicated to housing the chronically homeless. Rent is no more than 50 percent of monthly income, and it is automatically deducted from welfare or disability payments. Checks for the remainder come at the start of each month. It is clear when the beginning of the month rolls around in the city’s Mid-Market neighborhood. By 11 a.m., when check disbursal begins, a line stretches three blocks around the corner from the pickup spot at Lutheran Social Services on Eighth and Folsom streets. Smith, who goes by the nickname Kali, knows everyone. He is “of the streets,” as he likes to say. After rent is deducted from his disability payments, Smith is left with nearly $400. He is no longer homeless, but he is still poor. “Man, I’m going to have to hit St. Anthony’s a bunch this month,” he said, “I can’t afford to eat on this.” Smith’s housing situation helps him keep his health on track. Every morning, he takes six anti-retroviral pills that keep him from developing AIDS. “I got to take them before 10 a.m. — otherwise, I’ll start to feel sick,” he said. Jumping aboard the N-Judah train to the Inner Sunset, he went to see his caseworker at the University of California San Francisco’s Men of Color Program, an HIV and AIDS treatment center. Sherman Woods, the head case manager, said they got to know each other when Smith hit bottom two years ago. “We reached out to him because he was in desperate
CASEWORKER SHORTAGE Across San Francisco, however, many residential programs for the formerly homeless are understaffed. Marla Smoot, a caseworker at the Jefferson Apartments on the corner of Hyde and Eddy streets in the Tenderloin, provides case management for 110 residents. She helps tenants work through behavioral health issues, including hoarding, cluttering and violent outbursts. She also provides counseling, job placement and legal referrals in eviction cases. “I see people with more simple needs,” Smoot said. “I had a guy ask the other day where to find a notary public, and another guy who always wants to know the price of gold. So we’d just Google the price of gold.” Some days her workload is very different. “Other times, I’ll have more serious situations, where tenants will want to talk about getting a mental-health provider, or maybe they want to go into a substance abuse program.” Her phone rings constantly — typically 10 phone calls in a 30-minute period. “It’s hard sometimes because I’m the only caseworker for 110 tenants who live here, but at the same time I love my tenants,” Smoot said. “Certainly, there are folks here with needs who probably belong in a higher level of care, but the resources just aren’t there.” When a tenant is too much for her to manage, she calls the Behavioral Health Roving Team, a corps of 10 people who provide social work, mental health and medical care. Krista Gaeta, deputy director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which runs the Jefferson, said some clients are too mentally ill to live in the building, which is overseen by the Human Services Agency. She said “a huge number” belong instead in Direct Access to Housing, which serves a higher-need population. “We don’t have enough services in our buildings,” Gaeta said, “so many of our clients need more, and we’re not doing that heavy substance use counseling. We’re not
psychiatrists. We’re not medical professionals.” Caseworkers at many other housing sites in the Tenderloin juggle dozens of clients at a time, said Mercy Housing’s Christen. ADDRESSING MENTAL ILLNESS This is often the case at units within the city’s Direct Access to Housing program, in which many clients have multiple mental health diagnoses, as well as histories of substance abuse. Barbara Garcia, director of the Department of Public Health, said at a hearing about homelessness at the Board of Supervisors this year that 32 percent of people who were served in these 2,523 units had experienced more than 10 years of homelessness, and 57 percent had a history of serious mental health problems. “What’s disturbing to me is that we have a high number of homeless people who have dual- and tri-diagnoses of psychosis, depression and drug and alcohol abuse,” Garcia said. “We have this core group of people who have that, and we see a high mortality rate, and that’s what we’re trying to focus on.” Christen said she had experienced these problems at homelessness units she helped develop. Staff do their best to manage residents’ ailments, she said, “but it’s often done with bubble gum and tape.” Rose, the city auditor, concurred that case managers were overworked and underfunded: “Enlisting a fragile population in behavioral health services has strained the city’s network of case managers and mental health workers,” he wrote. So increasingly the responsibility for determining who gets into housing has rested with the evaluation of the Homeless Outreach Team — social workers and clinicians focused on getting the most vulnerable of the homeless into housing. “There are a lot of people who are sick,” said Raj Parekh, who ran the team for 10 years as it searched for those whose disabilities impaired their ability to seek help. “When you have a finite amount of services and it does not meet the demands of what you’ve got, you have to triage. We go into the nooks and crannies of the city finding people who are hard to reach.” While the city does not categorize people in databases on the basis of conditions such as mental health or substance abuse, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that roughly 30 percent of the homeless across the United States have behavioral health issues. In San Francisco, Parekh said, it is much higher. “The overwhelming majority — 85 percent to 90 percent — of
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people we encounter who are chronically homeless have something deeper going on,” he said. “We’re specifically built to help people who have a hard time getting from place to place on their own, understanding what they need to do, physically having mobility issues, and may have all kinds of substance abuse, mental disorders, cognitive or personality issues that prevent them from connecting the dots themselves.” NEED FOR BETTER RECORDS Staff at the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Agency rarely communicate with each other to coordinate their procedures. One consequence is that clients cannot easily move from one of these tracks to the other based on need. It is hard, for example, to move from Human Services Agency housing to a Department of Public Health building if a physical or psychiatric condition emerges that requires intense supervision. A transfer like that almost never happens. “There’s so many different departments and different buildings, and that often causes confusion and lack of support,” said Gaeta of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. “So often we have a tenant with such severe mental health issues who is not doing well in our buildings because we don’t have the level of support to survive. And we don’t want to evict them, but sometimes we don’t know what else to do.” The messy process of assigning people to housing makes it difficult to assess the value of the city’s multibillion-dollar investment in homeless services in the last decade. Ben Rosenfield, the city controller, concluded in a 2011 audit of supportive housing that neither the Department of Public Health nor the Human Services Agency had any way to measure the success of their programs. Both departments, he wrote, “need to collect a variety of tenant outcome data, including data on residents’ length of stay in housing, exits from supportive housing, benefits received, support services used and changes in health and employment status.” City officials had trouble explaining what happened to all the people who moved into permanent supportive housing but have since moved out. Some were reunited with family or friends. A few moved to programs with fewer services. Other clients were evicted, and returned to the street or shelters. Some died, others ended up in jail and a few simply disappeared. “We don’t have good information about why they haven’t succeeded,”
Terrence Smith prays regularly at St. Boniface Catholic Church in the Tenderloin (above). Photos by Angela Hart // Public Press said Amanda Fried, deputy director of policy for Dufty’s program at the mayor’s office, called Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement. Dufty is most often the first person to whom city departments refer queries regarding the city’s homelessness programs. But even he has trouble getting good data about the success or shortcomings of housing first-programs — a sign of the complexity of the bureaucracy that San Francisco has constructed to battle the problem. Both Public Health and Human Services officials said privacy rules restricted public access to their client databases. They cited exemptions within the California Public Records Act that restricted records of welfare recipients from being disclosed. They declined to release versions with private details redacted, saying it was impossible to cleanse identifying information. LIMITED RESOURCES A core assumption of the 10-year homelessness plan was that it would achieve financial savings. Not only would the housing-first policy ap-
proach improve lives by rescuing people from the streets, but it would also save millions of dollars by reducing emergency medical care. At the time, the city estimated it was spending a total of $183 million —about $61,000 per person for each of the 3,000 chronically homeless — on emergency room care, treatment in the county jail and other services. Prioritizing housing was expected to reduce these costs to $16,000 per person per year. It was not until Gavin Newsom took over as mayor in 2004 that the city fully embraced “housing first.” Care Not Cash drastically reduced general assistance and similar monetary payments to the homeless. As of this fall checks of up to $444 were reduced to $62 when clients got a promise of housing. The difference helped fund permanent supportive housing. The target population was people without a home for at least a year, or who returned to the streets four or more times within three years. Newsom cited research that stabilizing those with the highest need would save millions of dollars by reducing astronomical hospital bills.
Newsom said he had to make a radical change because the streets were so visibly out of control. “I got really fed up because there’d been an acute increase in people who were dying on the streets,” he said. The city got financial backing for its supportive housing expansion from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the state Mental Health Services Act, under which the state collects a 1 percent income tax from people earning $1 million a year or more. Now, the Department of Public Health’s Direct Access to Housing runs 1,539 units at 34 sites, mostly in the Tenderloin. Yet somehow, after a decade of work, the backlog of people eligible for these programs is as long as it has ever been. “Between Care Not Cash units, Direct Access to Housing units and people waiting in shelters, there’s got to be at the very least 1,000 people on various waiting lists,” said Dufty of the Mayor’s Office of Housing. While no one is claiming to have “abolished” homelessness, chronic or otherwise, city officials do talk of progress toward expanding supportive housing. Mayor Lee has said the city succeeded in meeting most of its goals
in the 10-year plan, which called for an addition of 3,000 supportive housing units. Since 2004, the city built or leased 2,699 units. Including housing that existed before, the city now has 6,355 units, according to figures in city audits. While it was a huge feat to get that much built, many of the goals were never realized, said Angela Alioto, who wrote the plan. Alioto, a former president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, ran a vigorous mayoral campaign against Newsom in the 2003 Democratic primary. When she withdrew from the race, Newsom asked her to orchestrate his battle plan against homelessness. After Lee became mayor in 2011, he disbanded Alioto’s homelessness planning committee, which met about once a month. Then homelessness appeared to worsen. “The 10-year plan kind of fell off a cliff,” Alioto said. “The interest wasn’t there.” Without the 10-year plan, she said, the situation on the streets would have deteriorated faster. Her biggest frustration was that bureaucracy made it hard for clients to get needed services. “It’s so ridiculous to me how many rules and regulations we make homeless people jump through,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lee announced in June that he was recalling the Homeless Outreach Team from its daily rounds and reconstituting the service this fall as a roving street-side medical clinic to head off problems that might otherwise clog emergency rooms. It was not clear whether the team would continue in its primary role of identifying and interviewing candidates for supportive housing. Newsom had sharp words for his successor, saying that under Lee, homelessness grew while the city failed to provide adequate resources for supportive housing. “There’s been no accountability,” Newsom said. “The need is more acute than ever. The street population has changed to a degree that so many people are dually diagnosed. So many are suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and self-medicating. And the chronic element is becoming more and more visible, and more difficult for the city to address.”
The Fund for Investigative Journalism provided support for this reporting project. Visit www.fij.org.
Even in supportive housing, some residents struggle to avoid eviction EVICTION continued from B1
Julia Smith, 64, waits for a chance at a shelter bed at Glide in the Tenderloin. Photo by Paayal Zaveri // Public Press
her. She decided to move out voluntarily, she said, from sheer battle fatigue. In the aftermath, securing a shelter slot is a tedious endeavor for Smith. With a bad back (she has three fractured vertebrae) and her depression diagnosis, she worried about the consequences if she could no longer make time to see her doctor. Her goal now is to save money to find a new place to live. The bulk of her income comes from $867 per month in Social Security benefits. To get off the street, she said, “I need more money.” Overworked staff at supportive housing programs say they face conflicts regularly, often because of inappropriate behaviors that homeless people bring indoors and need to be dealt with. Some tenants struggle with hoarding and cluttering. Amelia Rudberg, a case manager at the Seneca Hotel on Sixth Street, said managers must evict hoarders to maintain a “standard of habitability” demanded by the Department of Public Health. Tensions can even turn violent. Samara Miller, a case manager at the Raman Hotel on Howard Street, said she and her colleagues first try to keep problems from becoming physical by informally conversing with tenants who threaten others. If the problem continues, staff makes the tenants agree in writing to desist. Eviction is a last resort. “We want to keep people housed, we don’t want them to go back onto the street,” Miller said, “The other balance is keeping the community safe as well.” But supportive housing caseworkers have few effective tools to shift tenant behavior short of threatening eviction, Macmillan said. “That seems ridiculous.”
In April, the Eviction Defense Collaborative proposed altering that dynamic by creating a new, $200,000 city program to mediate disputes between landlords and tenants. By setting standards for conflict resolution, a mediation service would “dramatically reduce the number of formal evictions,” Macmillan said. That, in turn, could offset the costs of court proceedings for about 400 people. The Board of Supervisors rejected the proposal as written last spring. But Macmillan is working with District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell to revise the proposal for another attempt at funding. To the mentally ill, eviction lawsuits can be especially challenging. Richard Merriel, 48, spent a month in jail this summer on the charge that he violated his parole. Meanwhile, he racked up $1,400 in unpaid rent at the Mission Hotel on South Van Ness Avenue, one of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s city-sponsored supportive housing sites. When the organization sent him an eviction notice, Merriel did not realize he could seek legal advice, he said. He signed the papers without question. His oversight might be explained by his medical diagnoses. Merriel said he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and antisocial personality disorder. He also has difficulty reading and writing. It was his overlapping set of disabling conditions that qualified him for a supportive housing program in the first place. Merriel, who collects a monthly Social Security check of $961, said he was renting rooms in hotels immediately following his eviction. But by September, his money was running out. His fear was that soon he might have to resume sleeping on the streets. But with a case manager’s help, he said he was hope-
ful that he could get into a new room through a supportive housing program at Hotel Isabel on Mission Street in SoMa. The goal for the city and outside advocates should be to provide enough help for people in supportive housing to remain housed, said Deepa Varma, a staff attorney at the Eviction Defense Collaborative. “Both sides lose if this person becomes homeless.”
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Larger encampments are appearing in the Mission District (above). Kane, camping near Showplace Square at 15th and Utah streets, says police tell him to move from site to site (right). Photos by Eric Lawson // Public Press
As Neighbors Decry Spread of Homeless Encampments, One Mission Resident Opens Her Home Instead Police invoke sit-lie law to move homeless from city center into other areas By Sanne Bergh and Paul Lorgerie // Public Press
t started as the summer weather descended on the Mission District: Shabby tents popped up in clusters of three or four along residential streets at dusk. Then came the human waste. Then the drug dealing and the thefts. The marked increase in homeless encampments in the Mission, Potrero Hill and nearby neighborhoods has led residents to complain of their sense of powerlessness and insecurity with the proliferation of extreme poverty, grime and crime on their doorsteps. While the spread of the encampments is hard to quantify because of the nomadic culture on the streets, neighbors say they were unprepared for the change. Some say it was due to a mass migration from the Civic Center and Mid-Market areas as police step up enforcement of the “sit-lie” policy that restricts loitering and sleeping on the streets. BART police have made efforts using the sit-lie policy to aggressively clear out the Powell and Civic Center stations to keep corridors safe for emergency situations, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in July. The paper also reported that Mayor Ed Lee has made it a
priority to clean up the Mid-Market area. Police Chief Greg Suhr said he “takes orders straight from the mayor” and has doubled foot patrols. So it is no surprise that efforts to clean up one neighborhood are shifting these problems to another, where residents say enforcement seemed relatively lax. “The complaints have been incoming for probably two to three months now,” said Bevan Dufty, San Francisco’s so-called homelessness czar, at a community gathering in late September. Dufty, director of the city’s Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement program, said the streets of the Mission District are more comfortable and convenient for outdoor living than areas closer to downtown. “It is safe enough, and seems to work for them enough that they are willing to move for an hour,” he said. The sense of frustration among residents is palpable. At the community meeting, residents expressed a complex mix of fear and disgust, and asked city officials and police to fix the problem. But not everyone is scared of the rising population of homeless people in the neighborhood. Monica Pereira, an urban planner, owns a home in a three-story renovated Victorian building with
her husband. While she agrees that the Mission has become a “dirty neighborhood,” she said she wanted to shift the conversation to generosity and community. She attended the meeting to see what options were out there for her new house guest. Pereira did something few of her neighbors would contemplate: She befriended a homeless man, and ended up inviting him into a semi-detached room in her home so he could get back on his feet, apply for city and state benefits and interview for jobs. So far, she said, he seems to be making progress despite problems getting help through the slow and dysfunctional welfare system. NEIGHBORS FRUSTRATED The town hall-style meeting, organized by residents of the Mission and Potrero Hill, filled an auditorium at Bonhams auction house near Highway 101. The gathering served as a platform for numerous complaints. While officials offered no firm ideas about solutions, they said they had stepped up policing, street cleaning and outreach. On any given day, about six tents stand beneath the looming, noisy intersection of interstate highways 101 and 80, nestled at the junction
Complaints about homeless encampments in the Mission District are on the rise. Photo by Eric Lawson // Public Press
of the Mission, SoMa and Potrero Hill. The freeway overpass offers some protection from the elements during the colder seasons. “It’s quiet at night,” Dufty said. “The people who I talked to who have been camping here say it’s very safe here, and the people watch out for each other.” Billy Bean, a Bonhams employee and co-organizer of the meeting, said that while the homeless find safety there, longtime residents feel the community overall is becoming less safe. He said he perceives the street population becoming younger and more aggressive. “Now there are broken-into cars, stolen bikes, shady drug activity and growing fear,” Bean said. “It’s more a changing of population than an increase of encampments.” Gregory Dicum, a resident of the Mission for 15 years, criticized police Capt. Daniel Perea of Mission Station for not providing enough foot patrols. He said Perea was “throwing up his hands” to absolve himself from responsibility. In September, Perea told Mission Local, a neighborhood news website, that “enforcement is ineffective, because it only temporarily displaces the encampments. Further enforcement is not going to correct this.” “I could go to all these places every day and give tickets to everybody,” he said. “But if I give someone who’s homeless a citation, they’re not gonna stop. And nine out of 10 times they say ‘no’ to shelters. We just have no answer to this.” But Dicum also conceded that Mission Station was understaffed, and that homelessness was a citywide issue that could not be addressed by police in just one neighborhood. “At the end of the day, what we believe or suspect is not enough to place somebody under arrest or to take them away,” Capt. Robert O’Sullivan of Bayview Police Station told residents at the community meeting. But one homeless man by the name of Kane said police often “insist” that he move from site to site, using the 2010 sit-lie law. The police are also responding to poor sanitary conditions on the
streets, which are distressing to residents. Problems include human feces, used condoms and drug needles, as well as increased vulnerability to sexual harassment. Larry Stringer, director of operations at the Department of Public Works, said he is organizing “alley crews” to visit 50 sites a day. “One of the biggest challenges when alley crews clean,” he said, is that “the homeless return to the 50
“At the end of the day, what we believe or suspect is not enough to place somebody under arrest or to take them away.” Capt. Robert O’Sullivan of Bayview Police Station sites to make another mess.” The crews work with the police and Dufty’s team at the mayor’s office to ask the homeless to leave so they can clean the sidewalks. But Kane said that despite the increasing complaints from neighbors, not much has changed recently in terms of enforcement and cleanup. “We’ve been here off and on for years. They’ve been doing it everyday,” he said, adding: “I wonder how much it costs for them to stand around while they watch us pack.” ANOTHER TYPE OF RESPONSE But the range of discussion about options for dealing with the street population seems limited to Monica Pereira. Early in the fall, she took in a homeless man who moved to San Francisco earlier this year. A Venezuelan native, he moved into a “glorified storage room” attached to the garage. She invited him to stay after meeting him two or three times and learning that he had the potential to get back on his feet with a little bit of help. What convinced her was when he asked her to watch his dog while he attended a job interview.
She said she hopes her assistance will help expedite his journey out of homelessness. “He didn’t look homeless, he looked poor, just someone in a bad situation that needs help,” she said. The man had been living in San Francisco for about four months. Trained as a boxer, he came to fight in the United States for a South American boxing club and stayed. Since then, he has worked odd jobs in pest control and casinos in Las Vegas. While he does have a green card, Pereira said, he does not have enough money to apply for citizenship. Pereira acknowledged that the man’s situation was unusual, and she had a gut feeling that she could help him. Pereira also bought the man a bus pass and a prepaid cellphone. In return, he sweeps the front yard daily and sometimes cooks traditional Venezuelan dishes for Pereira and her husband, Kevin. The homeless man’s room had bright blue walls and low ceilings. The full-size bed was made up neatly. When Pereira opened the door, the man’s small black dog, Negrita, raced out and jumped on her shins. The homeless man has been working with a case manager at the Human Services Agency to get public benefits, but it has been hard. She wrote to the case manager on the man’s behalf, saying she did not want to charge him for rent, urging the city to help him with housing, “and a job, so that he can support himself.” City shelters are not an answer for everyone, said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness, an advocacy group. Most of the shelters scattered across the city are at capacity nightly, offering space only to about 1 in 5 homeless people, she said. Those who cannot secure spots must fend for themselves. At the community meeting, Dufty said the complexity of the problem of homelessness defied simple solutions. “Everyone is an expert in homelessness,” he said. “You cannot do business here, you cannot work here, you cannot live here without seeing a lot of homelessness.”
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