Homeless Families Campaign for Affordable Housing

by Ben Malley on April 2, 2007

The Coalition on Homelessness, a number of other advocates and homeless families from all over San Francisco gathered on March 30 at City Hall to denounce the city’s housing policy. With 4,500 units of affordable housing in the pipeline, only six percent of that would go towards homeless families under the current plan.

Over the next 18 months, an additional 498 subsidized housing units will be made available. But due to the current income criteria for these units, they would only be affordable for 15 percent of homeless families.

Homeless advocates spoke from the steps of City Hall and asked the city to fund an operating subsidy. They want to reverse the percentage of units available to homeless families – making the number 85 percent, rather than 15.

“There are more than 2,400 homeless families in San Francisco,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, Organizing Director for the Coalition on Homelessness. “These families don’t have the income to qualify for most of the affordable housing in this city. Mayor Newsom needs to start doing something about homeless families now, and he hasn’t done anything.”

There are over 1,400 identified homeless children attending public schools in San Francisco. But thanks to Cesar Chavez, they had this day off. And in front of the steps of City Hall they played a few rounds of “musical houses” for the television cameras – to illustrate the ongoing plight of homeless families. Each chair was outfitted with a painted cardboard house.

“This is truly a crisis,” said Alysabeth Alexander of La Voz Latina. “Families are being priced out of the housing market and this isn’t a minority of people we are talking about. It’s a large number.”

According to the city’s latest homeless count (released on March 28), the number of homeless families increased by 30 percent. Moreover, the count did not include families living in SRO’s – and those living doubled up or tripled up in apartments.

“Look at the children here,” said Angela Chu of the Chinatown Community Development Center, pointing to more than 60 children sitting on the City Hall steps. “What we are asking for are simple, basic human rights.”

It’s bad enough that the media never does justice to the homelessness issue, but how often do homeless families get media mention? Families aren’t traditionally what people think of when they think of “the homeless.” And because they are in shelters or SRO hotels, they are usually completely out of the public eye. As Friedenbach said in an interview with PBS last year, the mayor’s Care Not Cash plan primarily addresses the chronically homeless.

“I think politically it is advantageous to go after chronic homelessness, because local mayors can actually decrease the visible homeless population by focusing on that population,” she said.

Send feedback to bmalley@sfsu.edu

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