City officials pledge homeless shelter reform
"This is a moral issue, not a political
Supervisor Tom Ammiano led a rally on the steps of City Hall yesterday
calling for minimum health and safety standards at San Francisco
Photos by Luke
By Ari Burack
February 21, 2008
Homeless advocates rallied with members of the San Francisco
Board of Supervisors yesterday at City Hall in a call for minimum
health and safety standards in the city's shelters.
An ordinance proposed by Supervisor Tom Ammiano would amend the
city code to require city-funded shelters to supply basic needs
such as clean towels, soap, toilet paper, blankets and sheets;
to offer fresh drinking water and nutritional meals; to provide
transportation to medical and drug treatment and housing appointments;
to maintain compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act;
and to train staff to de-escalate violent situations.
The city would monitor shelter compliance and, if necessary,
collect damages from those who do not comply.
San Francisco's homeless population has been estimated at more
than 6,000, many of whom eschew shelters because of the conditions
and reports of abuse.
"This is a moral issue, not a political issue," said
Ammiano before a crowd of several dozen, many of them homeless,
on the steps of City Hall. "It's a matter of social justice,"
Supervisor Tom Ammiano
Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Aaron Peskin also expressed support
for the legislation.
The proposed legislation is the result of a collaboration between
city departments, the Coalition on Homelessness, the city's Shelter
Monitoring Committee and shelter residents.
A Coalition on Homelessness study reported 55 percent of San
Francisco shelter residents experienced some kind of abuse in
"This is a long day coming," said Coalition on Homelessness
Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach. "We're here to demand
some human rights and some dignity in San Francisco's shelter
Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach
According to Friedenbach, San Francisco contributes most of the
funding to the nonprofits that run the city's 19 shelters, and
owns the buildings that house three of its largest facilities.
Following the rally the ordinance was held up in the Board's
Budget and Finance Committe, of which Ammiano is a member, after
Mayor Gavin Newsom's office expressed concern about the cost of
"No one can argue with making the shelters a better place
to live," said the mayor's Homelessness Policy Director Dariush
Kayhan, adding that "fiscal concerns" are now forcing
many city departments to make "difficult decisions."
Homelessness Policy Director Dariush Kayhan
Ammiano estimated the cost of the program to be "relatively
minimal," not more than $700,000, he said. An analyst with
the city's budget office earlier estimated the cost at closer
to $2 million.
"Everyone is entitled to this," said Ammiano. "It
does not have to break the bank."
The committee agreed to delay their vote two weeks while the
various sides meet to determine the actual cost of the program
and arrive at an agreement - "To make a veto of this (by
the mayor) unnecessary," Ammiano said.
Quintin Mecke, chair of the Shelter Monitoring Committee, said
he hopes the delay will not last long.
"Right now, there are glaring needs that need to be met,"
he said. An estimated 1,500 homeless persons fill the city's shelters
each night, according to Mecke.
"This is an investment in a population that has not been
invested in, in a long time," he added.
Shelter Monitoring Committee chair, Quintin Mecke
According to Ammiano, the legislation has the support of the
majority of the Board of Supervisors. If approved by the Board
and the Mayor, the ordinance could go into effect as early as
April, he said.