SF supervisors pass policy to offer homeless people safe space to sleep

San Francisco supervisors unanimously adopted legislation that will offer all people experiencing homelessness in the city a safe place to sleep.

A Place for All, the ordinance by gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, was two years in the making. At the supervisors June 7 meeting, board members did make some changes before voting 11-0 for the ordinance.

The original proposal, introduced back in 2020, failed to make it out of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, which instead supported safe sleeping sites, or sanctioned outdoor camping spaces. This newer version includes a broader array of options while placing less emphasis on, but not doing away with, congregate housing such as shelters.

This time around, when the proposed ordinance went through the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services committee last month, it picked up a few amendments that Mandelman felt took away from the original intent of the legislation. Enough so, he was left wondering whether even he would support the proposal.

Eventually, he came around.

“There were some amendments proposed that would have fundamentally undermined the legislation, but the amendments that were actually made did not,” he told the Bay Area Reporter via text a few hours after the board passed the ordinance. “At worst, they muddied up the intent of the legislation and complicated implementation, but it’s still, as I said, a step forward.”

Specifically, one amendment added by District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar watered down the emphasis on immediate shelter with a stronger emphasis on permanent supportive housing.

The ordinance requires the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to prepare a strategy for implementation by December 31, including estimates for how many people might accept offered shelter, how much that would cost, and the total annual cost of the program once it was put into effect. The city agency is led by bisexual Executive Director Shireen McSpadden, who grew up in San Francisco and previously led the city’s Department of Disability and Aging Services.

To increase transparency about shelter availability, the ordinance will require the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to maintain a dashboard on its website displaying the total number of shelters citywide, broken down by shelter type, number of shelter units, and occupancy rate, according to a news release from Mandelman’s office.

It also directs the director of real estate to identify locations throughout the city that might be appropriate for use as shelters — such as the small cabins in use at 33 Gough Street and safe sleeping sites — and then submit those findings along with the homeless department’s implementation plan.

Notably, too, while the ordinance was passed unanimously, it wasn’t passed enthusiastically among all the supervisors. (It will need a second and final vote at the board’s June 14 meeting.)

During the board meeting, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen was the first to really voice her misgivings about the legislation, noting that issues such as homelessness aren’t just a San Francisco issue and would be better dealt with on a regional basis, just as District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan later pointed out, the nine counties of the Bay Area came together in lockstep to handle COVID-19.

“I’m voting for it,” she told her fellow board members, but, she added, “I believe it will do nothing.”

Chan was slightly more enthusiastic but largely because of the amendments that had been added.

“We’re voting on asking [DHSH] to have a plan and do their job,” she said, referring to the homelessness department. “I think that with Melgar’s amendments and suggestions, we give pretty good parameters. I also agree with Ronen that this really is a regional issue and it’s got to have a regional approach.”

Chan said she, too, would vote “reluctantly” for the ordinance.

Melgar encouraged everyone to support the measure stating, “I think it’s a pretty significant shift in policy. It is not something we’ve done before.”

Melgar also noted that her amendments, particularly one placing permanent supportive housing as one of the priorities of the ordinance, had caused problems for the measure.

But the ordinance now includes people living in their cars, she said.

“We need shelter beds for transitional age youth, we need cabin homes, we need places for people to park safely,” Melgar said. “We need a bunch of different alternatives. But we need a plan.”

And then, she acknowledged Mandelman for all the work he had put into the legislation.

“I thank you for carrying this boulder uphill for the past two years,” she said.

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston had his own misgivings, but they were mostly about the priorities of Mayor London Breed.

“We just got a budget from the mayor that zeros out housing,” said Preston, referring to Breed’s balanced budget proposal she released June 1. His constituents, he added, “are begging for these things. … We can’t get the administration to purchase a damn $5 million building to house people in our district.”

Eventually, all 11 supervisors voted for the ordinance. Mandelman, a pragmatist to the end, was just happy it had passed.

“Yeah, I didn’t love all of the amendments, but even with them, I think the legislation moves San Francisco meaningfully toward being a shelter-for-all city,” he told the B.A.R. after the meeting. “Now we need to see what the administration comes up with in terms of a proposed budget and implementation plan. This is a step in the right direction but just a step.”

From this point, he said, his plan was to follow up with DSHS to ensure the plan they come up with “meets the intent of the legislation and, in the meantime, continue to push for more shelter and more effective and consistent encampment resolutions.”

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Article source: http://www.ebar.com/news/latest_news/316320

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