root - Posted on 02 December 2003

EDITOR'S NOTE: Is homelessness the "Willie Horton" issue of the San Francisco mayoral race? Critics of a frontrunner's
program say it's effective in winning votes but fatally flawed as a solution to the homeless crisis. PNS contributor
Sapphire is a homeless writer who lives in San Francisco. He took part the WTO protests in Seattle and has been a
squatter, occupying empty buildings in San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle.


SAN FRANCISCO--Millionaire Supervisor Gavin Newsom is trying to win the race for mayor of San Francisco at the expense
of elderly, disabled and homeless county assistance recipients. City officials across the nation who are truly seeking
solutions to the homeless crisis won't learn a useful thing from him.

Obsessed with what poor San Franciscans like me do with their trifling $320 to $394 per month cash grant, Newsom is
still trying to ramrod Proposition N, his "Care Not Cash" legislation, through the city's Board of Supervisors.


he slick language of Prop. N convinced voters that medical care, housing, meals and shelter would be provided to the
2,400 or so individuals and families, in place of the county assistance they now use to survive.

The reality, however, is that there is no infrastructure in place to support such a broad and monolithic county
expenditure, as City Budget Analyst Harvey Rose concluded in his June 9 report to the Board. Rose's office, which
oversees all budget expenditures considered by the Board, issued a scathing 28-page indictment of Newsom's political
shell game.

Rose estimated the city could wind up spending more money on providing services to those cut off welfare than the $13.9
million it currently spends on cash assistance. He also found little evidence of widespread welfare fraud by
out-of-town homeless people; catching those cheats was supposed to fund the "care" part of Newsom's program. Already,
some $1.5 million have been squandered on biometric laser fingerprinting and photo technology designed to catch an
imaginary army of double-dippers.

Judge Ronald Quidachay's recently struck down Care Not Cash on grounds that only the state, not the voters, can
regulate welfare recipients. Unfortunately, his ruling applies only to 1,000 of the 2,400 homeless County Adult
Assistance Program (CAAP) recipients. The other 1,400, including disabled people, the elderly, working mothers and
mentally ill residents were still slated to have their checks cut to $59 by July 1. (the cut-off date is now in limbo;
the supervisors will meet again to consider Prop. N). If implemented as currently crafted, Prop N will expel at least
610 current shelter residents.

No more than .025% of the families, workers and disabled people in San Francisco are homeless and currently receiving
General Assistance in the form of cash grants. Yet, Board members (including Newsom) just voted themselves a 66 percent
pay raise. So even though there will be no care, we do know where the cash will go.

Those of us who have personally experienced how San Francisco treats its poor have no illusions that anything less than
stepped-up police violence, alienation and the curtailment of our human and civil rights is on the way.

I've never heard Newsom talk about freedom of choice. For example, as a cash grant recipient under the CAAP programs, I
may want to attend a trade school or rent a space on a friend's sofa with my monthly stipend. I may want to put an
outfit together and look for work as a bar back or waiter. I may even choose to (God forbid!) join a young lady for
dinner or a movie. Under Ordinance N, my personal choice in these matters is completely stripped from me. This is about
human dignity.

As a young homeless man in San Francisco, I have a few pragmatic suggestions for helping homeless men and women meet
the challenges they face:

--Close all shelters, thereby removing from the equation fat cats and parasites who, entrusted with the well-being of
tens of thousands of human beings, often have little or nothing to show in return for the astronomical amounts of
money, resources and commodities they receive.


-Utilize existing housing and urban development funds as matching funds to assist private, non-government groups such
as Homes Not Jails in opening up empty building and units to squatters, students and low-wage workers.

--Create a liaison between the city and squatters to enhance squatters' rights at a time when housing will be most

--Streamline funding to prevent extensive bureaucratic expenditures and cronyism.

--Be pragmatic and real about freedom of personal choice; it's often the only real way poor people can improve their
lot. For example, two, three or more individuals or families should be able to pool their resources to make ends meet
or pay rent for a living space.

--Waive San Francisco City College tuitions for homeless students so that those willing to try to improve their lot can
do so.

--Phase out traditional institutional entitlements with Habitat for Humanity-type models encouraging self-sustainable
and long-term success.

Homelessness, because it involves human lives, is far more complex than glib and simplistic "solutions" like "Care Not
Cash" make it out to be.

(06262003) **** END **** (C) COPYRIGHT PNS


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