Lines are getting longer for beds in San Francisco even as budget cuts have forced the closure of shelters throughout the city. Many of those seeking shelter are low-income residents of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, including Spanish-speaking residents of the Mission District.
“San Francisco at the beginning of the economic crisis was somewhat isolated from the obvious pains of the economic recession,” said Eric Quezada, executive director of Dolores Street Community Services in the Mission District. “But now folks that were stable are making their way into the shelter system.”
According the Jennifer Friedenbach of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, there are currently two homeless shelters that provide only 85 beds for men in the Mission neighborhood; there are no local shelter services for homeless women and families. At the same time, the Coalition has seen a 300 percent increase in demand for families and a 50 percent increase for single adults seeking reprieve from homelessness in the city.
“According to the last mayor’s homeless count, 78 percent of respondents were living in San Francisco before becoming homeless,” said Friedenbach. “[There’s a myth that] gets put out there that people come to the city seeking homeless services, but the mayor’s own study shows that’s not true. According to the Coalition’s 2009 figures, only 2.9 percent of people seeking shelter services have come from outside the city to find assistance.”
Recent budget cuts have impacted emergency homeless services, mental health services to the homeless and substance abuse programs the hardest but providers have had to struggle to see funding maintained in the face of growing need. The city originally called for a $2 million reduction to homeless services in its proposed 2010 budget, but the money was eventually restored after protests and successful organizing.
Dolores Street Community Services provides the Mission’s only shelters and says that while they have been able to sustain their services at previous rates they are feeling the impact of the recent upsurge in demand. “It’s harder for folks on the streets to get a bed,” said Quezada. “They have to get there early in the morning to get a bed.” Additionally, cuts to other programs — such as the elimination of 150 shelter beds at 150 Otis to make way for a housing development — have not been replaced, leading more people to seek out what remains of city’s shelter services.
“In our shelter, 48 percent of the people are Spanish-speakers,” said Marlon Mendieta of Dolores Street Community Services. “All of our shelter staff speaks Spanish.” According to Mendieta, the shelter serves people regardless of immigration status. Thirty-seven percent of the adult males that utilize the shelter services are between the ages of 40 and 49; 19 percent are between 30 and 39.
Mendieta added that the cuts to 150 Otis in June of this year especially impacted the neighborhood shelter provisions because the facility was both a resource center that provided access to services after 7 p.m. as well as a drop-in center that provided shelter beds on a seasonal basis. Community organizations are currently urging the city to take the money that was previously spent there and redirect it into shelter services.
At the same time, mid-year budget cuts are expected, according to Friendenbach. “In light of the recession, what the local government should be doing is more to assist people experiencing destitution, but they’re doing less,” said Friendenbach.
The Coalition is currently looking at alternative revenue streams, such as the proposed hotel tax and the real estate transfer tax on this November’s ballot, to help generate money to increase services. In the recent past, they have also identified places in the budget to save money, such as targeting Operation Washdown, a program that paid people to spray sidewalks, which resulted in businesses flooding as well as harassment of the homeless.