Beyond beds - Page 2

Mayor's Office stalls legislation to create standards of care for homeless shelters

"I don't think there is any reason to wait to make sure people have access to toilet paper, have access to clean conditions, have access to ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] -compatible beds."

At Ammiano's request, the committee decided to postpone the vote for two more weeks to try to work out differences with the Mayor's Office, and set the next hearing for March 5. If the supervisors proceed without Newsom's support and he ends up vetoing the legislation, it would take the vote of eight supervisors to override and implement the standards anyway.

Newsom and the board have been at odds over homelessness and other budget priorities. Buster's Place, the city's only 24-hour drop-in shelter, is now caught in the middle of the political tug-of-war between budget cuts and shelter improvements. There is a provision within the standards of care legislation that mandates a 24-hour emergency drop-in center. At the time it was drafted, Buster's Place filled this requirement.

However, due to the timing of the midyear budget cuts ordered by Newsom, the Department of Public Health cut off funding for Buster's, effectively closing the center at the end of March (see "No Shelter from the Budget Storm," 2/20/08). It is now unclear how the requirement will be met if the legislation passes.

"We're tired of having centers like Buster's Place on the chopping block," Mecke told the Guardian. "It's ludicrous to keep going in this cycle over and over again." Buster's was slated to close six months ago but was rescued by a Board of Supervisors' budget add-back, and a year before that, McMillan's (another 24-hour center) was forced shut its doors.

The ordinance seems to challenge Newsom's recent efforts to whittle back shelter services. It would allocate more funds to a department Newsom is trying to cut and assure the existence of an emergency 24-hour center, a clear departure from Newsom's recent announcement that he wants to ultimately "get San Francisco out of the shelter business."

The most controversial requirement within the standards of care legislation seems to be its enforcement mechanism, calling for fines of $2,500 levied against the nonprofit service providers for noncompliance. While Kayhan voiced reservations about creating new staff positions to carry out enforcement, the SMC has insisted the fines are crucial and will only be used as a last resort.

"In 2004, the supervisors [created the] Shelter Monitoring Committee because contract compliance was not working," Mecke said. "If there are policies in theory, they should be legalized and should become mandates and be enforced."

Barbra Wismer, the medical director of Tom Waddell's clinic, which frequently serves homeless men and women, urged attendees at the budget meeting to put politics aside and remember the importance of shelter standards, not just for the current homeless population, but for all San Francisco residents.

"If there was a natural disaster like an earthquake, or a fiscal disaster like increased foreclosures, and 1 to 2 percent of people — 14,000 in San Francisco — had to be put in emergency shelters," Wismer said, "we do not have any standards to protect them."

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