As seen on 18th and Bryant, 2017. Photo by Lydia Chávez

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.”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. This is the scourge of the Homeless Industrial Complex at it’s worse. They have been scamming San Franciscans for 30 years with their promises to fix the vagrant mess. The more they spend, the more our city descends into a vagrant hellhole. This is a dagger to the heart of a civilized city. What do you think all these extra vagrants, housed at night, will do all day long? They will beg, drug and shit on the streets like they always have. Only now they will be permanent fixtures. It’s estimated right now that 50% of the beggars on the streets are ALREADY HOUSED in one of the 7,600 vagrant units they city already has. They are just so dysfunctional that their behavior will always be a problem. Yet these delusional (or flat out dishonest) “advocates” think it’s fine to hoist more of this mess on us permanently. The road to hell is paved with “good” intentions…..

    1. The homeless industrial complex should be investigated to see how they are using city and donor funds to help solve the homeless issue.

  2. So $300 million in addition to the $300 million already being spent. The homeless census estimates around 8,000 homeless. So we’ll spend $75,000 per homeless person–more than most working people, including myself, make in a year. And then what? What’s the end game? More people here SF is giving out free housing, so another 8,000 homeless show up and we spend another $300 million?

    1. You don’t understand these people, do you? They could care less if it was the stupidest thing to do ever. They see it as “righteous” and it does not even register with them, that it will have disastrous consequences and fail miserably. They only thing that matters is their value signaling and their religious level of belief, that they must do this. Efficacy matters not to them.

  3. “The evening was undoubtedly a nexus of the city’s progressive politicos.” Or, perhaps more accurately and better stated: ” The evening was undoubtedly a nexus of the very people resonsible for our beautiful city’s homeless crisis.” Now we can expand that to the BART crisis, as in BART Slasher. And they really want us to believe they have the answers? Avalos? I thought he had joined his pal Mirkarimi in Costa Rica, or wherever it is Mirk fled to. Wishful thinking on my part. A legend in his own mind, is Avalos. Avalos should join the Social Democrats or Democratic Socialists, or whatever they’re called. Then he can run for Congress. He’s probably kicking himself that Ocasio-Cortez beat him to the punch. Hell, he’s got years fighting the capitalist pigs. It’s only a matter of time before he finds a job on the public dole somewhere. Ammiano? Name me three pieces of legislation he sponsored that were passed into law and then tell me how they’re working out. Dolores Park was at it’s worst while he was a supervisor, for those of us that may not remember indeed he was a San Francisco Supervisor. And he just has to use the f-bomb for emphasis, eh? Classy guy. Friedenbach? She’s no friend to this city and she’s no friend of the homeless. It’s been on her watch homelessness metastized from a nuisance to a full blown crisis the lights of which the City has never experienced. Friedenbach and her organization were way late to the realization that a housing emphasis should be a shelter emphasis. A simple shower, toilet, and cot emphasis with a hat and a pair of sunglasses thrown in. Can anyone iagine being out in the elements all day without a hat and sunglasses? How many homeless thirty, thirty-five year olds have we all seen that look fifty? Couldn’t get it done, Jenny? We’re now paying the price for your ignorance of what the real issues on homelessness were. The Coalition totally missed the ball on that one while spending all their time trying to shame us into believing we were heartless, merciless, and clueless. Well, good luck with your legislation, seriously. But while you’re at it how about including etiquet lessons for the homeless? How about explaining the sidewalk or gutter is not their personal trash bin? How about explaining that food disposed of in the gutter attracts rats? Maybe you can get Tony Robbins to come in and give the homeless some self-respect lessons? My grandmother never had a dime to her name and spent the last ten years of her life in a wheelchair but damn if her house didn’t look like she was expecting the pope that afternoon. Other than that, how many piles of human you-know-what did we all pass by today?

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