Only blocks away from where Food Not Bombs volunteers serve black beans to a long line of homeless men and women at the 16th and Mission BART plaza, a cadre of homeless advocates donned eveningwear and clinked glasses as they regrouped for what is sure to be a historic battle.
“This is our time,” Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, told a group of some 50 people gathered last night at Slate Bar on 16th Street. “This is going to be a David vs. Goliath fight.”
Friedenbach was referring to Our City, Our Home — a ballot measure that, if passed by voters in November, would direct nearly $300 million to city housing and homelessness services via a tax on San Francisco companies that gross more than $50 million a year.
And it figures to be a “David-and-Goliath fight,” because the measure is sure to meet well-funded opposition from some of the city’s most powerful business interests. Already, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has indicated that it will oppose the measure. “They’re going to be spending millions,” Friedenbach predicted.
Meanwhile, the evening’s fundraising goal was $8,000.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere at the trendy bar on the fringe of the Mission was one of relief and celebration — or, as 30-year-old Evan Owski put it, “inevitability.”
Owski was one of the 500 volunteers who snapped into action to gather a whopping 28,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, despite a dearth of paid signature-gatherers, which nearly crippled the effort.
“So many people I talk to say, ‘this is a no-brainer,’ or, ‘why haven’t we done this?’” Owski said. “There is a sense of inevitability that I hope translates into people actually coming out to volunteer for us.”
Owski, who himself gathered 400 signatures, said it will be crucial for the campaign to mobilize with the same sense of urgency as the volunteers gathering signatures. “We’re going to need people to drop literature on doors, help us make fundraising calls — we need all kinds of help,” he said.
If approved by a simple majority of voters, half of the estimated $300 million generated annually by the tax would be routed to building, rehabilitating and preserving some 4,000 units of housing. A quarter of the funds would be used for mental health services. And around 15 percent would help to prevent homelessness, while 10 percent would be used to create new shelter beds.
“This is one of the biggest, boldest measures San Francisco has seen to address homelessness,” said Sam Lew, a policy director at the Coalition on Homelessness and Our City, Our Home’s campaign manager. “There isn’t a larger measure to address housing and homelessness, I think, in the United States.”
The Mission District, Lew said, would see a relatively quick reduction in street homelessness, as the plan would be to open up around 1,000 SRO rooms for those in the most need. She added that the 15 percent of the haul aimed at homelessness prevention — i.e. long- and short-term rental subsidies for the elderly and disabled — would aid in curbing the neighborhood’s high rate of displacement.
The evening was undoubtedly a nexus of the city’s progressive politicos. District 6 Supervisor candidate Matt Haney was there, as was former District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who said he donated to the campaign and will be going door-to-door to promote the measure.
Dean Preston, who is running for District 5 in 2019, said he will be mobilizing volunteers. “For me, the top priority in San Francisco over the next few months is to make sure this passes,” he said. “I mean, I’ve pulled papers to run for supervisor, but in terms of what we’re really going to be doing is passing this measure.”
Early in the evening, as the music bumped and attendees pecked at tamales with plastic forks, former District 9 Supervisor and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano took the floor, and recalled how the conventional wisdom was that Our City, Our Home would never amass the necessary 10,000 signatures because “you have to pay all this money for signatures.”
“You know what I say?” he continued. “Don’t fuck with us — because that’s what makes us stronger.”