San Francisco's untouchables - Page 5

Is San Francisco trying to help the homeless -- or drive them away?

|
()
GUARDIAN PHOTO

After losing his place, he stayed with friends and family members, sometimes on the streets, and occasionally using the shelter system (he hated that, telling us, "I felt safer in Vietnam"). He now receives Social Security benefits and lives in an SRO.

Homelessness is often a direct consequence of eviction. Last year, the city allocated an additional $1 million for eviction defense services. Advocates hope to increase this support in the current round of budget talks. The boost in funding yielded measurable results, Friedenbach pointed out, doubling the number of tenants who managed to stave off eviction once they sought legal defense.

There's also a trend of formerly homeless residents getting evicted from publicly subsidized housing. Since 2009, the Eviction Defense Collaborative has counted 1,128 evictions from housing provided through HSA programs. Since most came from being homeless, they are likely returning to homelessness.

Dufty said more could be done to help people stay housed. "Yes, we're housing incredibly challenged individuals. And we have to recognize that allowing those individuals to be evicted, without the city using all of our resources to intervene to help that person, that's not productive," he said. "It's debilitating to the person. It's just not good."

Fried said the city could do more to provide financial services to people who were newly housed. "You were homeless on the street — you know you didn't pay some bill for a long time. Really that's the time, once you're housed and stable, to say, 'let's go back and pull your credit.' Once we have people in housing, how are we increasing their income?"

Gary

Gary: "If I knew how to fix it, I would."

Guardian photo by Mike Koozmin

SEARCH FOR SOLUTIONS

The reopening of [freespace], a community space at Sixth and Market temporarily funded by a city-administered grant, attracted a young, hip crowd, including many tech workers. A girl in a short white dress played DJ on her laptop, against a backdrop where people had scrawled their visions for positive improvements in the city. Some of the same organizers are helping to organize HACKtivation for the Homeless, an event that will be held at the tech headquarters of Yammer on March 28. The event will bring together software developers and homeless service providers to talk about how to more effectively address homelessness.

"The approach we're talking about is working with organizations and helping them build capacity," organizer Ilana Lipsett told us. The idea is to help providers boost their tech capacity to become more effective. And according to Kyle Stewart of ReAllocate, an organization that is partnering on the initiative, "The hope is that it's an opportunity to bridge these communities."

Other out-of-the box ideas have come from City Hall. Sup. Kim, who stayed at a homeless shelter in 2012 during a brief stint as acting mayor, said she was partially struck by how boring that experience was — once a person is locked into a shelter, there is nothing to do, for 12 hours.

She wondered: Why aren't there services in the shelters? Why isn't there access to job training, counseling, or medical care in those facilities? Why are the staffers all paid minimum wage, ill-equipped to deal with the stressful scenarios they are routinely placed in? Her office has allocated some discretionary funding to facilitate a yoga program at Next Door shelter, in hopes of providing a restorative activity for clients and staff.