September 18, 2002

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opinion

by jennifer friedenbacz

Prop. N's big lies

PROPOSITION N, being financed by big business and brought forth by media darling Sup. Gavin Newsom, would cut cash assistance to the poorest San Franciscans by 83 percent. Prop. N backers clearly believe homeless people will then flee San Francisco – although they're telling voters this will actually help homeless people.

Here are some of the biggest lies the Yes on N campaign is putting out.

Lie number one: Prop. N will guarantee services. There is nothing in this initiative that guarantees services. It simply cuts poor people's income. The money saved goes back to the bureaucrats. Meanwhile, as many as 3,000 people are screwed.

Lie number two: Prop. N will help address the homeless crisis. Actually, Prop. N will increase homelessness. Homeless people will lose the flexibility to rent housing on their own. If some cheap housing becomes available, they will no longer have the funds to pay for it: under Prop. N, you have to have a receipt for rent before you get the money to pay it.

Individuals who live in marginal housing arrangements will no longer be able to pay for it. If they don't have a receipt or a letter from the leaseholder, they will lose their assistance. This will hit poor communities, where many are fearful of being evicted if the landlord finds they have unofficial residents, very hard.

Many hotel operators refuse to provide receipts, so individuals living in those places will become homeless.

Lie number three: Prop. N doesn't take money away from the homeless, it just changes the way it is spent. Prop. N does indeed take money away from the individual homeless person, and that same person will not see any direct benefit from the removal of that cash. Welfare recipients do work for their money at the equivalent of minimum wage, unless they are disabled or in a job-training program. Under Prop. N, they would still have to work – but get paid only $1.64 an hour.

Lie number four: Prop. N provides "services not cash – because we care." If proponents cared, they would spend all that campaign money directly on housing – not on billboards and commercials to mislead voters. Deep corporate pockets should be funding services for poor people, not running campaigns to slash welfare benefits.

Lie number five: Surrounding counties have already instituted this program and have been successful. This is simply not true. No counties in the region have done exactly what is being proposed in San Francisco. And those who have cut cash assistance or instituted vouchers have seen an increase in the number of homeless people, according to the San Francisco legislative analyst.

Lie number six: Other major cities, such as Seattle, Chicago, and New York, have instituted similar programs and have seen huge successes. Again, this is simply not true. Those cites have seen huge increases in the number of homeless people. The state of Illinois eliminated General Assistance in 1992 and last year saw 166,000 more people become homeless. New York has seen huge rises in the number of homeless people since 1998. Seattle gives full grants to homeless people.

Lie number seven: As a result of cash grants, there are more than 100 fatal overdoses every year on San Francisco's streets. There has not been a homeless death study since 1999. But, there was no evidence that homeless deaths are tied to receipt of cash assistance, then or now. Overdose-prevention reports from the Department of Public Health do not recommend cutting or replacing cash assistance.

Lie number eight: Impartial experts such as the director of the S.F. Department of Human Services and the director of the S.F. Department of Public Health support this initiative. These are not, by any stretch, impartial supporters. They were appointed to their positions by Mayor Willie Brown, who fully supports this initiative. If they want to keep their jobs, they support whatever the mayor tells them to support.

Lie number nine: All homeless people are addicts. That's really what the Prop. N campaign has been implying. There's no data on how many people who would be hit by this initiative are suffering from addictive disorders. But there are hundreds of people who now pay fees for substance-abuse treatment who would lose that treatment if Prop. N passes.

Lie number 10: Prop. N will go beyond fractious politics and finally address the issue of homelessness from sound public policy. Prop. N is fractious politics! The city has a homeless plan, titled "Continuum of Care," that was developed by more than 225 community members. Prop. N is directly contrary to the plan. Putting this on the ballot was terribly divisive. Jennifer Friedenback is project coordinator at the Coalition on Homelessness.