SF’s Top 5 Unmet Needs

by on June 23, 2015

A summer outdoor screening in SF

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the 2015-16 budget this week, after the quietest budget process in years. Skyrocketing revenue has avoided the big budget fights, but key needs remain unmet. Limiting my choices to what is doable—obviously getting billions of dollars to build affordable housing is a consensus funding priority—here are my top 5 needs that the city can feasibly address:

Homeless Outreach Services

I have seen more people sleeping and/or camping on San Francisco sidewalks in 2015 than ever before. I realize this is a national problem, with Los Angeles recently reporting an 85% rise in camping in the past two years. And Mayor Lee’s new Navigation Center is getting many off the streets.

Yet there is a huge unmet need for additional and effectively performed outreach services.

I argued on March 24, 2015 that San Francisco’s homeless outreach “needed a new direction,” but my hope that the city would shift responsibility from the Health Department to the Department of Public Works was not realized. A city of San Francisco’s vast wealth should not have so many sleeping or setting up chairs on its sidewalks, and more resources and/or the better deployment of existing services are necessary to address this major unmet need.

More Police on Streets

The SF Examiner’s Jonah Owens Lamb recently wrote  (“SFPD lacks civilian staffing,” June 15) about the SFPD’s use of uniformed officers for clerical duties. If additional clerical staff were hired, these officers could instead be on the streets.

Lamb quoted Chief Greg Suhr, “We are very, very low in the San Francisco Police Department when it comes to the civilian staffing.” It remains unclear why this civilian hiring has not occurred.

I have been told over and over again that the Tenderloin is shortchanged on police staffing due to the lack of graduates from academy classes. Yet the SFPD does not need a lengthy academy process to hire civilians, and doing so would quickly get more officers on the streets.

Supervisors Wiener and Cohen have pushed for more officers, and this seems like an obvious way to achieve this. Could the Police Commission facilitate this shift of officers away from desk jobs?

Subsidize Arts Activities

Everyone in San Francisco talks about the importance of arts, but admission charges to dance, arts, and theater shows block access by low-income residents. Couldn’t the city subsidize monthly free arts days for museums and other arts facilities? I know that foundations often do this for venues but it would make a powerful statement if the city did as well.

The city should subsidize discount tickets for low-income residents to facilities like the ACT Strand that are trying to connect the arts scene to nearby low-income residents. This would send a powerful message of San Francisco’s support for more democratic access to the arts.

Improve UN Plaza

In 2010, I authored a piece, “San Francisco Moves to Rejuvenate UN Plaza.” We published a similar piece in March 2014 (“New Plans for Reviving UN Plaza”) and that August I saw the Friday Night Market as offering a “new, bold idea” for the area.

The Night Market has been a roaring success, but UN Plaza may be as troubled today as when I expressed hopes for its rejuvenation in 2010. Why does the city allow such a potentially great public plaza to be taken over by drug dealers?  I can’t figure it out.

It’s well past time for the city to partner with a donor or business to invest the money needed to redesign the area with trees in planters and other visible changes. This redesign of UN Plaza is essential to its improvement, and is an important first step.

In an area crying out for quality public space, San Francisco continues to effectively limit UN Plaza’s access to Tenderloin and SOMA families. The successful UN Plaza Farmer’s Market is not enough.

Public Movie Nights

San Francisco needs more public movie nights. We have such nights in Bernal Heights, the Sunset, and other neighborhoods, but we need more. While these events are free to the public, they cost money to bring off. These great community building events for all ages and incomes deserve greater city financial support.

I’ve talked about this issue with public officials for years and everyone agrees that the city needs more of such events. But apparently because there is not a nonprofit group dedicated toward showing movies in parks and other public places, the funding is inadequate.

Maybe the Warriors can fund public showings of a film on their championship season. Or the Giants can show their World Series highlights. Whatever the programming, if the film or play is of high quality and available at no charge, people will come.

We talk about making San Francisco more family-friendly. Adding events and open space for low-income families should be a must.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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