Indifferent to our people


root - Posted on 06 November 2009

The fight to save the City's meager remaining resources for poor people.

by Elizabeth Reiser/POOR Magazine Race, Poverty and Media Justice Intern

I woke up in bed this morning. I brushed my teeth, took a shower and ate scrambled eggs with toast. I drove to Dr. Andrew's office where I winced at my tetanus shot and then headed to Walgreens to pick up my prescription.

Although the first hour of my morning was a common one, it was also one of privilege. My ease in obtaining basic necessities and health care is at odds with the significant struggle for many citizens living in San Francisco. As clothes pile in bedroom closets and medications stack on the shelves in bathrooms of the "haves" resources for the "have nots" drain from supply closets at shelters and health clinics. Mayor Gavin Newsom's proposed 2008-2009 budget for San Francisco signals a harsh future of painful shortages of essential necessities for those most in need. There will be no longer a trickling down of supplies but instead a severe drought of survival resources.

Reduced funding for non-profit health and housing centers further endangers the most vulnerable citizens in our city. For Ella Hill Hutch, Episcopal Community, Next Door and many other health and support shelters assisting hundreds daily, services would be significantly cut or worse, their doors would close. And, when this proposed budget closes a door, there will be no opened window.

In desperation for my concerns to be heard, while re-porting and sup-porting for POOR Magazine, I joined a worried community at the budget protest on the front lawn of city hall. "We have a city and leadership that is indifferent to our people," stated Supervisor Bevan Duffy of District 8. How can such apathy exist in a democracy? My voice would not be heard in the Budget Committee meeting; however, the voices of my fellow citizens would echo within the walls of the Supervisors' Chamber as we marched in during our budget protest on Thursday, June 26th.

"When services are under attack. What do we do?"

"STAND UP FIGHT BACK!"

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) along with members of Tenderloin Health Resource Center, Coalition on Homelessness, and other activists crammed into the chamber at City Hall. The flame of frustration in the security guards was a tea candle compared to the fire burning in those most affected by the proposal. Their fierce and determined chants gave meaning to Tom Ammiano's comment, "the cruelest thing is that they get very angry and they worry." The proposed 2008-2009 budget causes stress not only about simple necessities but also about basic survival.

Among the purple sea of the SEIU, I stood next to members of the Tenderloin Health Resource Center, the largest community center in San Francisco providing essential services and housing to thousands of individuals annually. It is the only service open 365 days a year, 18 hours a day. Although 16,000 individuals access this center over 180,000 times per year, many of these services have been deemed expendable and their clients disposable. Tei Okamoto, a manager of Tenderloin Health stated that the proposed budget will cut their $800,000 funding nearly in half. She exclaimed, "this can't serve our population." And, this is just one of many shelters that will be significantly impacted or closed due to the budget cuts.

A further look at Mayor Newsom's budget shows over 1,000 front-line service jobs eliminated while management jobs increased. This continues the 10 year trend of high paid management positions increasing at a rate 7.7 times greater than the lower-paid positions for workers directly involved in delivering city services.

As Chris Daly quieted the unified crowd in the Supervisors Chamber, he declared, "Sustained pressure is important, we need to unite as a city to save services." With these words I raised both my head and my sign higher as I processed out of the room. However, my shoulders returned to their slouched position, weighed heavily by the sight of the men and women on the street lying outside closed doors. The backs of those struggling citizens turned away from overcrowded, under-funded shelters circled through my mind in response to their cycle of poverty. How many doors must be slammed in the face of those most in need of an open one?

Later that evening as I brushed my teeth and removed the band-aid from my tetanus puncture another question surfaced. In remembering a fellow protestor's sign, "Patients not Profits," I suddenly realized that even full-funding would still be just a band-aid. Mayor Newsom's budget may be saving city dollars, but what about saving human lives?

*Supervisors' funding requests known as "add-backs" were added since the production of this article restoring almost full-funding to the Tenderloin Health Resource Center. However, this and many other health centers and shelters are still significantly under-funded and in danger of closing. The 2008-2009 budget process has not yet been finalized so ongoing pressure is still vital.

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