Homeless rally against budget cuts at City Hall


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By Rebecca Bowe

Proposed cuts to homeless-services programs drew a crowd of around 200 homeless people and service workers to the steps of San Francisco City Hall this afternoon. The Coalition on Homelessness, the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, Tenderloin Health, the SRO Collaborative and other organizations set up an outdoor drop-in center and handed out bagged lunches to rally participants. A line of tents that had been set up on the lawn was labeled as the city’s homelessness plan.

“These are not times to cut any services,” said Laura Guzman, director of the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, which assists homeless people by providing case management, housing or shelter placement, and other needs. Her organization has seen some 1,500 additional visits per month since the recession hit, Guzman noted, and that they’re constantly at full capacity.

“There’s just not enough bed space to go around,” noted Mission Neighborhood Resource Center staffer Cyn Bivens.

Some $3.5 million in cuts to funding for homeless-assistance programs was identified in the Human Services Agency’s budget-reduction plan, compared with total agency budget cuts totaling nearly $30 million. One of the most significant would be the elimination of the Tenderloin Health Center.

Mayor Gavin Newsom asked many city departments, including HSA, to slash 25 percent of their discretionary funding in order to remedy a gaping city budget shortfall. The proposed cuts went before the Budget & Finance Committee this afternoon, but the ball is in the mayor’s court until the city budget is finalized. “We’re here to ask the mayor to rethink his homeless cuts,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

Service providers say the real-life consequence of losing these programs will be a surge in the number of homeless people who must remain on the streets instead of at a drop-in center such as Tenderloin Health.

Clarence Octetree, one of the rally participants, says he’s been living out on the streets in San Francisco for three months and that he relies on the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center for basic needs. “If they take the funds away, we’re going to be in bad shape,” he said.