The November 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

AFSC Honors War Resisters

David Harris: A Stirring Call to Conscience

Leonard McNeil: Resisting 'Rich Man's Wars'

Karen Meredith: A Mother's Plea for Peace

Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar

Massive Police Sweeps in Contra Costa County

Housing First for Poor Families

Landlords Sue to End Just Cause

Struggle to Save the Free Box

YEAH! Shelters Homeless Youth

Gentrification in Berkeley

New Home for East Bay Law Center for Poor

Wal-Mart Pushes Philanthrophy

Sutter Health's War Against Health Workers

Growing Gulf Between Rich and Poor

Inequality in America

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Forgiveness


ARCHIVE

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


 

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

'Housing First' for San Francisco's Homeless Families

by Carol Harvey

Homeless families with children hold a protest rally at San Francisco City Hall to demand more housing for families. Photo by Luke Thomas, SanFranciscoSentinel.com

Homeless families camped out at San Francisco City Hall under Mayor Gavin Newsom's office balcony on Thursday, October 20, 2005. Their goal was to hold Newsom to the promise he had made on October 13 to focus on housing families "first." The homeless families, in partnership with the Coalition on Homelessness, had presented their recommendations to Newsom the previous month.

Two weeks after their protest, on November 3, I walked to the Presidio's Inspiration Point and looked out over San Francisco Bay. Treasure Island floated in a cobalt blue mist, Berkeley and Oakland in purple, and Alcatraz in pale yellow. Between wisps of clouds, tinged pink from the setting sun, a silver fingernail of a moon hung in a blue-gray evening sky.
At almost-dark, some mighty hand flipped a switch lighting the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts from inside, like a big half-peach. Sparkles of light studded The City and the East Bay shore. I thought how the money spent on the incredible power in those lights could house for a year every homeless person who slept on the streets or in shelters tonight.

I imagined a 15-year-old boy sitting alone in a room, his head bent over his book, studying for tomorrow's classes at SOTA, San Francisco's School of the Arts. Because of his talent, he and his mother had hopes for his future in art or theater. He auditioned and was accepted into this four-year distinguished high school visual arts program run by the S.F. Unified School District.

Recently, a congenital eye problem, exacerbated by his sudden teenage growth spurt and the stress of moving around, had thrown his artistic future into question. He is now legally blind in one eye.

When he was younger, he and his mother, Maxine Pauson, a disabled survivor of domestic violence, roomed with other people. As he got older, that became increasingly difficult. He needed his own room and his own space. Yet, he is forced to share shelter with his mother, confined to the room together even when both are sick. Ironically, permanent housing rules require a teenager and parent to have separate rooms.

His mother's congenital disc herniation left her in constant pain. She had to take anti-inflammatory pills and lie down during the day. Because she could not sit for long periods, she could not work. Her disability entitlement was so low they didn't have enough to rent their own place. Staying with others, they fell into the legal definition of "homeless."

Seven years ago, when her son was eight, Maxine put them on every Section 8 and public housing waiting list she could find in every county surrounding San Francisco, plus many further away -- even San Diego. They got no offers at all.

I pictured her son studying tonight in a small shelter room in a former Catholic convent, the St. Joseph Family Center south of Market Street at 10th and Howard. For a year and a half, they lived in five different shelters, waiting six months to be placed in the first one in Petaluma.

Her son loved his school. He took the long bus ride each day to continue to go there. It seemed ridiculous to Maxine that the McKinney homeless assistance act paid his fare back and forth when the money would be better spent on affordable housing. Maxine feels the system is broken when priorities are so off balance.

She cited two factors creating this situation: The first factor was Ronald Reagan's political spin on poverty mothers as "welfare queens" and an attitude that placed less importance on stay-at-home women whose job is running a household and raising children. Though requiring massive skill sets, this is not seen as acceptable "work."

Mothers, especially poor ones, are subjected to a shame-blame game. People do not seem to recognize that children are the actual victims of this attitudinal and institutional child abuse.
Second, entitlement programs like food stamps and Section 8 housing were reduced one by one to pay for the Iraq war. Maxine asserted that today, when one fights to get out of poverty, there is less and less to work with.

Homeless shelter roulette

Maxine's friend, Estelle Mata, 44, immigrated 14 years ago from Lagos de Moreno in Jalisco State. Lagos is a semi-arid, cattle-raising and dairy-production area of western Mexico where a Nestles plant is located. Lagos' residents have a 100-year history of U.S. migration.
Before her 18-month-old son, Steven Michael, was born, Estelle worked as a cashier, restaurant worker, dishwasher and housecleaner. Unable to afford childcare for her baby, she cannot work at present.

Estelle and Steven Michael currently stay at "44 McAllister," an SRO hotel. She is happier there than she had been at two previous shelters.

She said, "I have my own room, an electric plate and a kitchen for cooking (for her baby). I have a place in the refrigerator for keeping my food. It was more difficult when I was living in the shelter, because there was no single room. (Now) I have my single room."

Before living at 44 McAllister, Estelle lived in La Casa De La Madres and Hamilton Family Center, "a very bad place with small mice walking on the floor."

The rules were strict. "You (must) get out of the place (when) it's rainy or cold with your small baby (at) 8:45 or 9:00 o'clock in the morning, and you cannot stay out after 8:30 p.m.
"La Casa De La Madres -- very bad place, too," she said, citing the rigid rules there. "And you don't have a place for cooking in the kitchen, (or) a place to keep food, like a refrigerator. The people put very heavy rules on me, because I'm not speak very well English. I'm no resident.

"When I live in La Casa De La Madres, (I had) pain on my left side very strong. I was working too much, seven days in the week with my baby in the kitchen, breakfast and lunch, washing dishes, cleaning the stove, mopping, sweeping the floor."

She said in an interview that she was the only resident forced to work like a "slave" to stay there. "They enforced this work on only me," she said. "I fight them. I make a big complaint, and cry, asking 'Why?' They said, 'Because you don't have any care for your baby.'"

In January, Estelle must leave the hotel. "I don't want to go back to La Casa De La Madres (or) the shelters no more," she said. "I pray for my own place. I believe in God. At La Casa De La Madres, every day I reading my Bible, and I pray. Now I have a clean room, a place in the refrigerator, and a place where I can cook. I don't worry too much because I pray. I told Jesus, 'You help me in three months. Please, please, help me.'"

Families speak truth to power

On October 20, Estelle and Maxine were part of the group of homeless families who demanded housing by camping out at City Hall under Mayor Newsom's office balcony. Coalition on Homelessness staff members Miguel Carrera and Jennifer Friedenbach were lead organizers.

Miguel is from the Mexican state of Puebla, the town of Calipan, a farming community which grows sugar cane, beans, corn and tomatoes. He spent two years as a poverty activist working in the southeast border city of Tapachula in Chiapas.

A single man in San Francisco, Miguel was homeless. He worked four years without pay at the Coalition on Homelessness. Now he is a paid organizer, and has housing and a family - his wife Julie and two young children, daughter Selene, age 7, and son Emilio, 5. His children sensitized Miguel to the pressures of homelessness on the very young.

"The shelter is not housing," he said. "Children need a real home. (Families) need a space for each child, a bedroom for the father and the mother to sleep in, a real kitchen, a dining room. They need a playground where the children can play.

"The children need a real thing they have, that they can say, 'That's my home. That's my place.' What happens when the children go to school with their friends? When other children say, 'Can I go with you to your home to do my homework? Can I play with you?' What do they say? 'Um, my mom don't allow nobody in my home.' They invent some story because they are nervous and confused, and not feeling good because they don't have real housing. (Their housing) is a shelter."

Miguel said that children don't want to be ashamed about being homeless and have a hard time trying to explain away their family's poverty. "Children don't want to say, 'I live in a shelter. I'm not like you. You have a home. I'm different.' They don't want to say, 'My family is poor.' They are ashamed, so they give a cover story."

Miguel said this attack on the poor is also racist. "The majority of families who stay in the shelters or in SRO hotels are African Americans and Latinos."

Families demand reforms

Instead of merely having Human Services dictating to them, homeless families want a voice in housing, homeless prevention, and shelter reform. Over the past two months, they have presented Mayor Newsom with a thoughtful series of recommendations that, if enacted, would vastly improve the chances for survival for homeless families in San Francisco.

HOUSING
1. Set aside 25 percent of the mayor's 3,000 units of housing for the 2,700 men, women, and children who are members of homeless families.
2. Create a local housing subsidy program for homeless families, approximately $500 a month for 120 families. (Homeless activists say it costs far more to keep families in shelter than in housing.)
3. Increase homeless prevention funds by 75 percent, with more flexibility.
4. This housing should be paid for without cuts to needed services, because Care Not Cash has been a destructive and divisive policy that made deep cuts to homeless stipends for thousands of people in order to house the "chronic homeless."
5. "Housing First." Place families directly in housing, bypassing required stays in shelters or transitional housing. (Estelle, Maxine and their children were shunted from shelter to shelter pointlessly, creating great insecurity for the children.)
6. Consider families as part of the "chronic homeless" population, include them in "Housing First," and place them into units large enough for families.
7. Move families into vacant Housing Authority units with a possible "sweat equity" program, fixing up units for lowered rent.
8. Place housing advocates in shelters to help families overcome credit issues, identify housing resources, and navigate the Housing Authority.
9. Create a local housing fund by taxing major property developments.
10. Reinstate funding, rental subsidy level and income eligibility for Section 8 vouchers.
11. Double the number of Section 8 certificates released nationally.
HOMELESS PREVENTION
12. Ensure homeless parents have access to higher education, with scholarships, and funding for books, childcare, tuition, and living expenses.
13. Provide access to living wage jobs.
SHELTER REFORM
14. Enable families to participate in shelter policy and running the shelters.
15. Maintain clean hygienic bathrooms and common spaces in shelters. (Maxine and Estelle complained of mice, and dirty bathrooms and kitchens.)
16. Ensure equal treatment in shelters. Shelters should be held accountable to following and applying their own rules in a "fair and unbiased" manner (unlike the discrimination inflicted on Estelle).
17. Shelters should provide tutoring and mentoring for children.


STREET SPIRIT
1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

© 2002-2005 STREET SPIRIT. All rights reserved.

Published by American Friends Service Committee

Editor and Web Design: Terry Messman