The long wait for sleep - Page 2

The Fair Shelter Initiative could reduce endless waiting times at homeless shelters

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People are often forced to sleep on the streets even as beds in the San Francisco's homeless shelters are kept vacant.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY BEN HOPFER

The upshot of this system is that most CAAP recipients are effectively made to pay up to $357 a month from their benefits to sleep on a cot in a shelter, provided they make it there by curfew. For one frustrated homeless man on General Assistance who spoke at a July 14 hearing about the proposed initiative, living on less than $2 a day rather than closer to $11 a day was making it very difficult for him to improve his situation.

"I'm trying to look for work," he said, adding that he'd seen job postings in other cities. "How am I going to subsidize my trip to Emeryville or San Jose? I'm stuck, and there are things that I cannot do."

Mark Leach, another homeless CAAP beneficiary, said the low cash grant posed a vexing problem for him too: "I can't afford to pay my phone bill." Living on nothing more than $65 a month can mean living in isolation, with no way to receive calls in case work becomes available.

Another issue arising from the current system, according to Bob Offer-Westort of the Coalition on Homelessness, is that a disproportionately high number of beds are reserved for the relatively small number of CAAP recipients citywide, and those program beneficiaries don't always use their beds. Some don't make it to the shelter in time for curfew, others couch surf, and still others may prefer to sleep outside, far from the confines and crowds of the shelters. If they don't show up to claim the bed, it will eventually become available to someone else for the night — but that can take hours. So people who either aren't enrolled in CAAP or don't already have long-term beds are reduced to waiting, day after day, for space to free up overnight.

If the Fair Shelter Initiative were in place, CAAP recipients "won't be guaranteed a shelter bed" as part of Care Not Cash, says Offer-Westort. "But they'll be competing for more beds," he added, which "should reduce the wait time."

In the meantime, CAAP recipients who aren't being housed in SROs or some other transitional housing would receive the full amount of their benefits. Rohrer, the HSA director, seized on this point as problematic, saying that doling out the full cash grants would draw people to San Francisco from other counties where benefits are lower. "If we start to get folks from other counties and states ... the result will be more homeless people in San Francisco and less access for folks," Rohrer said.

Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness countered this, saying, "they have never been able to prove that people will come from out of town." She addressed the notion that the Fair Shelter Initiative would dismantle Care Not Cash by saying, "It's news to me — big news — that shelter is the entirety of Care Not Cash."

Opponents of the measure who spoke at the hearing argued that $422 a month was too much to give to a homeless person because it could feed addiction. While it's true that many homeless people in San Francisco have substance-abuse issues, many others are disabled or have just fallen on hard times. Advocates say they've noted a surge in newly homeless people accessing services, particularly women.

 

HUNDREDS OF BEDS CUT

Compounding the overall problem is that more than 300 shelter beds have been lost since 2004. During the hearing, L.J. Cirilo ticked off a long list of homeless service programs and facilities that had vanished in recent years due to budget cuts, going on for several minutes.

Comments

I totally support this initiative. It is remedial action that is long overdue.

Posted by Mark Barnes on Jul. 19, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

I wish the Guardian would someday choose to get its facts straight. Last year the Coalition on Homelessness' argument against Prop L was that there was not enough shelter beds for all the homeless in our city. Now, they claim there are hundreds of beds that go unused each night? San Francisco is one of the most giving and progressive cities in the world when it comes to social and homeless services. Let's have an honest conversation and really decide if the city can afford to pay $422 a month to thousands of homeless residents. If this initiative does pass there will be a new influx of homeless residents coming to our city looking to cash in, and the ones who are already here who desperately need the services will be the ones who will suffer more. Reality should trump political desires in this debate.

Posted by Care not Cash on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 9:33 am

Jesus-friggin-Christ! The root of the problem isn't whether CNC works better than cash, its the fact a new recipient only needs to be a city/county resident 2 WEEKS to apply. If the residency requirement where one year, all the assistance programs would be benefitting real residents rather than traveling freeloaders.
Those against CNC say cash draws people here. Bullshit. Every city gives cash, what draws them to SF from nearby cities is the quick residency requirement, allowing them to sign up, get a mailing address and go home collecting from afar. A 1 year residency would be much harder to commit fraud with, requiring proof such as check stubs, rent receipts, tax returns, state issued ID, etc. to qualify.
As for CNC, it draws more people than the old cash system because they are going for the "brass ring", a new high-rise apartment, total benefit package, which is what everyone is promised when they sign up (you're on a "list" for a spot). Until then you get a shelter bed, taking all the beds from the homeless who want no part of this system. You don't have to dismantle CNC to make it work. Just extend the residency requirement, which will slow the incoming to a trickle, and allow those in the system to actually be assisted. And as anyone who works in GA will tell you, people fall off the program all the time. The current glut would fix itself over time.

A one year residency requirement wouldn't affect anyone currently enrolled, only discourage those across the country considering coming here for the easy money. One year on the street is a lot harder to do than 2 weeks.

Posted by JoetheSFRepublican on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

I'm sorry. I wrote my post in a fury, was not clear on a few points:

Both assistance programs, Care-Not-Cash and the regular cash program, can work if the residency requirement were a year rather than 2 weeks.

The cash program failed because it was easy to commit fraud. They only had to prove two weeks residency, then return once a month for an appointment.

Care-Not-Cash has a different problem,it attracts out-of-state people coming here specifically for our new all-inclusive program. The system has swelled, and now it has taken over the shelters system as well. And SRO's are no longer an option for working class people, either, because CNC has taken over a large number of them, too.

As a Republican, I personally would like to see Care-Not-Cash dismantled, I think a cash system is acceptable. As a realist, I'll accept either if they could just fix it by creating a one year residency requirement.

Posted by JoetheSFRepublican on Jul. 20, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

Didn't Jane Kim pull this ballot initiative? Is this article moot?

Posted by The Commish on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 9:16 am
yes

we published a blog post on Kim's pull yesterday: http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2011/07/26/kim-removes-homeless-shelter-ref...

this article was published more than a week ago.

Posted by marke on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 9:38 am

Thanks. When I clicked "This Week" earlier this morning, this article popped up so I thought the article came out today. Thanks for the clarification.

Posted by The Commish on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 11:16 am