F A Q
Frequently Asked Questions
I thought San Francisco was leading the country in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Why are you asking for more?
In many ways San Francisco has been a leader in its response to COVID19, issuing a shelter in place order and making testing available to some patients relatively early. However, the City’s response for people sleeping in shelters, in SROs, or on street corners has been a complete disaster.
Even the emergency ordinance passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors has not been enough to compel Mayor Breed to secure hotel rooms for our unhoused neighbors. In fact, Mayor Breed has said she will ignore the emergency ordinance and continue to leave vulnerable people on the streets and in congregate shelters.
We need permanent housing now to prevent the city from returning to the crisis of inequality and homelessness we lived in before the pandemic. Right now two people in San Francisco have emergency powers to turn vacant units over to homeless people: Mayor London Breed and Tomás Aragón. Getting everyone inside is critical to public health, and demanding that it happens immediately will save the lives of many of our homeless neighbors.
Why should homeless people get homes in San Francisco? Don’t most homeless people just come here from out of town for our city’s services?
Actually, 71% [PDF] of people who are homeless in San Francisco became homeless when they lost their housing here. The myth of people flocking to the city for services is oft-repeated, but not based in reality.
There are over a thousand people on the waitlist for shelter on any given night, and only 1 shelter bed for every 5 homeless people. Even after one makes it to the top of the waitlist, the shelter bed is only offered for 90 days before the person is sent back out onto the streets.
Conditions in the shelter system vary, but many shelters have strict curfews, dress codes, and surveillance procedures, and many don’t offer showers or allow pets. Some shelters don’t even have cots, just mats on the floor that are inaccessible to seniors and people with disabilities.
In reality, people are not resistant to services, but the services are resitant to the real needs and conditions of people. The shelter system should only be a last resort in a city that can afford to house everyone. Every human being has a right to housing.
Are there really more vacant homes than homeless people in San Francisco?
There are an estimated 38,651 empty homes in San Francisco. Using the Point in Time count conducted by the city in 2019, there are 8,011 homeless people [PDF] in San Francisco on a given night. Using those figures there are approximately 5 vacant homes for every homeless person. However, the Point in Time count is notoriously inaccurate, and the Coalition on Homelessness estimates there are 20,000 homeless people in San Francisco.
Even using this drastically higher figure, there are nearly two vacant homes for every person experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. The problem is not a lack of housing, but rather a lack of political will to address homelessness and inequality.
If Prop C passed with 62% of the vote, why haven’t homeless people been moved into housing?
As I’m sure you know, the Our City Our Home (OCOH) campaign won – and was stalled by a lawsuit. The City and County of San Francisco is techinically the defendant in this suit because our opponents wrongly believe Prop C needed 2/3 of the vote. Proposition 218 (passed in 1996) requires some tax increases to get a 2/3rds vote to pass.
In the information supplied to voters at that time by the Department of Election, it stated clearly that taxes put on the ballot by elected officials to fund particular issues require this. However, the anti-tax interest group Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is trying to rewrite the law in opposition to the will of the voters, erroneously claiming a 2/3 threshold should apply to all special tax increases. Their suit is preventing Prop C from taking effect.
The good news is we keep on winning. The trial judge ruled in favor of Prop C. His decision has been appealed, again by the same anti-tax interest group, and will be heard at a date to be determined.
The city may go to the ballot November 3, 2020 to reform the gross receipts tax in San Francisco. That is the same tax structure that we based our measure on. Given that Mayor Breed opposed our measure, there is a chance that she will try to overturn Prop C in this process.
As of now, 10 of the 11 Supervisors on the Board have signed a pledge to respect the will of the voters, to keep their hands off the homeless fund we created, and offer not a penny less for homelessness (save for D2, Catherine Stefani). However, Mayor Breed responded that while she is “generally supportive” of Our City Our Home, “compromises will likely be needed by all stakeholders.”
We fought for Prop C and we won in a landslide; we cannot compromise on this measure. Many thousands of lives depend on it.
What about the people who own these properties? It doesn’t seem fair to them.
Refusing to provide shelter to our unhoused neighbors is unfair. Endangering the lives of San Franciscans is unfair. Flipping properties to pad bulging bank accounts while our neighbors die on the streets is unfair. The property we are in today was bought with the intention to flip it for millions, but has sat vacant for years.
Our leaders are unwilling to take the actions necessary to provide housing to our neighbors. It is our responsibility to ensure public officials recognize the urgency of this moment. Now is the time to move people inside.