Sofia Skavdahl is a sophomore international studies major.
This November brings more attention to homelessness than ever before with several propositions on the ballot attempting to fix one of the city’s most intractable issues. In San Francisco, these are Propositions J and K. While Prop. J would establish a homeless and affordable housing fund, Prop. K would increase the sales tax of the city three-quarters of a percent to nine-and-a-half percent, helping fund a portion of Prop J. Both would generate about $1.2 billion in housing and services for the next twenty-five years.
While these propositions have bonafide intentions, their proposals are not adequate enough to bring the progress the city desperately needs. Raising the sales tax will not directly offer the homeless housing; rather, it would increase the cost of living and insinuate a larger economic divide. This brings up the often unpopular suggestion that the only way of alleviating homelessness is by assuring guaranteed housing. However, both Alameda and Santa Clara County have introduced ballot measures that would authorize federal bonds for direct aid to housing for the homeless and further rehabilitation services.
Also on the ballot this year is Proposition Q, which would ban homeless tents and allow the city to remove them, while instructing the inhabitants to find available shelter elsewhere. The redundant and often ineffectual argument that homeless persons should leave the streets and solicit the help of shelters and charities is neither sympathetic nor practical in the Bay Area. Currently, less than three percent of San Francisco’s budget is allocated towards its most difficult and ongoing problem of displaced homeless residents. Despite its prior efforts to alleviate the issue, the city’s low-income housing now has multiple year waiting periods and over 700 men and women on shelter waitlists. Some supporters of Proposition Q argue that by passing a tent ban, there will be an increased incentive to move the homeless into proper housing. However, even if Propositions J and K were to pass, it is likely to take several years before any construction for homeless housing is underway. Prop. Q is not realistically enforceable and with no immediate alternative, banning tents would only further regress the city’s already precarious relationship with the homeless.
Combatting the growing problem of homelessness must be done by creating practical and calculated initiatives to establish affordable housing, shelters with high turnovers and eradicating the impression that crime weighs directly on the backs of the homeless. Although Propositions J and K promise increased action, they provide only temporary solutions for what has been a recurring problem. Adapting policies similar to Alameda County’s proposed Measure A1, which would authorize a $580 million bond for affordable housing, constructs an actual concrete solution without directly affecting the taxpayers or the city’s cost of living. If Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco were to all pass their similar propositions this November, it would mandate an estimated three billion dollars in the next 25 years that could create 20,000 affordable apartments.
San Francisco has the largest homeless population in the Bay Area. I believe it is accompanied by the weakest policies for decreasing it. The most effective solution for the city is for it to follow in its neighboring counties’ footsteps, by allocating a portion of their budget specifically for homeless housing. Regardless of the bans and restrictions we impose on this already vulnerable area of society, the homeless will continue to be homeless unless the proper resources are made available to change that.