Changes to the requirements for homeless families to apply for longer-term housing in San Francisco were up for discussion Thursday morning.
The Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, headed by Supervisor David Campos, held a hearing on a proposed requirement by the city’s Human Services Agency to have families provide proof of city residency to qualify for certain homeless resources.
Human Services Agency director Trent Rhorer laid out the way the homeless housing system works at the hearing, attended by Campos along with supervisors Norman Yee and Jane Kim.
Bevan Dufty, director of the city’s office of Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement, also attended the hearing but did not comment on the discussion.
According to Rhorer, there are emergency shelters that offer beds for one night to up to 60 days and there are long-term shelters that families can live at for a three- to six-month period.
The proposed residency requirement would only apply to longer-term shelters, of which there are three in the city.
He said at the three centers, the Hamilton Family Center, Compass Connecting Point and St. Joseph’s Family Center, there are 239 beds accommodating about 60 families.
Families apply for the beds through a waiting list, which currently has 220 families that wait for housing for about seven to eight months, according to Rhorer.
Some families with special circumstances such as disease or mental illness are prioritized and on average wait two to three months for space.
“It’s a limited resource with heavy demand,” Rhorer said.
The agency is adding the residency requirement in an effort to prioritize housing for families most in need and truly in poverty, Rhorer said.
He said once families are part of the shelter system they gain access to other services such as medical needs, food programs, childcare, and job training.
As part of the proposed eligibility changes families would have to provide prior San Francisco residency or show intent to reside within city limits.
Children who are enrolled in a San Francisco school can be one of the ways a family can show a city connection, Rhorer said.
Other ways include employment in the city, living at a different shelter or other form of housing such as a transitional house or medical facility.
Another part to be eligible for housing will be applying for the state’s CalWORKS welfare program, which would not be a requirement if every family member is undocumented.
By applying to the welfare program within San Francisco, applicants are proving their intent to live in SF, Rhorer said.
Additionally, to qualify to shelter housing a family of three must be making less than $31,885 or 35 percent below the median income.
The eligibility changes are proposed to be implemented on Aug. 1, Rhorer said.
However, the supervisors did not give support of the changes at the hearing. In July, the discussion will go to the full board that could enact legislation to stop the policy change.
Yee expressed worry that the requirements will instill fear in families that will prevent them from applying to shelters and instead live on the streets.
Kim questioned whether the system should be changed because of a few bad actors who have used the shelter system and other resources as a safety net.
She said she’s also concerned that there’s an assumption that some don’t deserve the slots as much as others.
Campos reiterated his worries of unintended consequences of changing the status quo, such as preventing domestic violence victims from seeking San Francisco shelter or other circumstances that would keep needy families away.
Beverly Upton, the executive director on the Domestic Violence Consortium, said domestic violence victims come to San Francisco because this is touted as a safe place.
“The unintended consequences of this policy I think are huge,” she said.
Others spoke out against the changes, including a woman who has lived at the Hamilton Transitional Housing for the past year.
“Leave what is fixed alone,” Leontine Collins, 50, said.
A case manager at Compass Connecting Point, Shavonte Keaton, said she is concerned about the new requirements’ impact on families that are fleeing from domestic violence and those with severe medical conditions.
Jennifer Friedenbach, the director of the Coalition on Homelessness, said she “looks at this as an attack…not just a policy change.”
Rhorer contended that changing the system will help streamline the shelter process.
“We’re trying to massage a system to make it most beneficial,” he said.
If the policy were to change a new wait list would be established for qualified applicants, however currents waitlisted families would be “grandfathered” onto the list, according to Rhorer.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News