San Francisco Mayor Plans Spending Increase on Homeless Programs

San Francisco Mayor Plans Spending Increase on Homeless Programs

News Jun 02, 2017

June 01--San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, facing pressure from residents tired of stepping around sidewalk tents and piles of dirty needles, said Wednesday that he would spend additional millions to deal with homelessness and make it a top budget priority in the next two years.

In the $10 billion budget proposal that he will present to the Board of Supervisors on Thursday, Lee will suggest that all new funding that has not yet been spoken for -- about $30 million next year and $35 million the following year -- be spent combatting homelessness.

Last year the city spread $275 million across eight departments that deal with homelessness. Most of that was spent on three broad areas: shelters and Navigation Centers that take in homeless people, their partners and even their pets, and provide services such as substance-abuse treatment and job-finding help; long-term supportive housing for formerly homeless people; and medical outreach teams that care for people who would otherwise shuttle in and out of emergency rooms.

Lee hopes to expand services at a new harm reduction center at Sixth and Mission streets, which offers counseling and medical care for people with addictions and mental health issues. He is also proposing a 24-hour resource center that would provide homeless people with showers and hot meals, and he would fund a special paramedic team to intervene with people who are the subject of 911 calls more than 10 times a year.

The mayor's budget would also beef up a "fix-it" program that the city started last year to deal with such street health and safety hazards as abandoned drug paraphernalia and broken streetlights, and eyesores including graffiti and dilapidated news racks. Lee promised to focus on streets "plagued by tent encampments and dirty needles."

On homelessness, the city is already increasing the number of short-term shelter beds to 2,105 over the next few months, from the current 1,826. It also plans to open a shelter for homeless families in the South of Market and three new Navigation Centers, in addition to one that opened last week in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

But the number of people without permanent housing still hovers at 6,700, according to the last count in 2015, and fighting the crisis is an uphill battle. The next homeless count, based on a one-night census conducted in January, is expected to be released in about two weeks.

A large portion of the $65 million in new spending over the next two years would be directed at drug users, specifically those hooked on heroin and other opiates, addictions the mayor blames for long-term inability of San Francisco and many other cities to make a visible dent in the street population. Lee would tap revenue from property taxes, business and sales taxes and hotel taxes to pay for it.

"The budget I put forward today presents new investments to address the behavioral health issues and heartbreaking evidence of addiction we witness on our streets daily," Lee said. "But let me be clear, public drug use is not acceptable. It is harmful to the people injecting drugs, it is harmful to the people witnessing the abuse, and it is harmful to the families and children who walk down our streets and see the discarded needles and (the) human cost of addiction."

Jeff Kositsky, director of the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said, "It's much more difficult to quit heroin than to quit other drugs. ... When people are highly addicted, we have to work hard to get them into services."

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That's the reasoning behind Lee's proposal to increase funding for the harm reduction center. It provides a clean place for drug users to get off the street, where they are more susceptible to infections and overdoses.

The mayor's proposed resource center would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provide basic comforts for up to 150 people a day. The plan for a special paramedic team, which began as a pilot last year, is designed to ease the burden on San Francisco's overwhelmed 911 dispatch center and emergency rooms.

Although homelessness is a main focus of Lee's budget, he is also trying to address a different sort of quality-of-life issue -- potholes and street repairs. His budget would spend $530 million over the next two years on street resurfacing and capital improvements, meeting the funding levels recommended in the city's 10-year capital spending plan. That money would help to fill potholes, repair city-owned stairways and tunnels, and upgrade the seawall at Mission Creek and Fisherman's Wharf.

Lee's budget would also replace $32 million in state funds that are being cut for an in-home care program for seniors and people with disabilities, a program that provides legal representation for foster youth, and for the CalWORKS welfare program. And it sets aside $50 million to help San Franciscans who might not have health insurance should President Trump and Republicans in Congress sharply cut federal health care spending.

In the next two weeks the city's budget and legislative analyst will make recommendations on the mayor's budget proposal to the Board of Supervisors. Then all the city's departments will come before the board with their own proposed changes, during hearings that are likely to continue through June. The supervisors will adopt a budget in July.

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @rachelswan

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Rachel Swan
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