The Way Forward on Homelessness

December 3, 2015

St. Anthony Foundation at 150 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco

As Prepared Text of The Way Forward on Homelessness Speech

The Way Forward on Homelessness 

Good morning and thank you for taking time to join me today.

First, thank you to St. Anthony for hosting us this morning. Your commitment to helping the needy and vulnerable is an inspiration to me.

Thank you to Barry Stenger and the staff for your wonderful commitment to our City. It’s never tiring to carve turkey with you!

And welcome to our elected officials and City commissioners who have joined us this morning.

I’m proud to have been re-elected as your Mayor. I want to first thank the voters of San Francisco who believe in our solutions-oriented, consensus approach, and have asked us to continue our work. Thank you for placing your trust in me for four more years.

San Francisco is the greatest City in the world, and I’m honored and humbled to serve as your Mayor for another term.

I love this City so much, just like you. I love that we never run from challenges – we confront them with the progressive optimism that has come to define our City.

We tackled so much over the last five years – but some of our most complicated and seemingly intractable challenges remain. I ran for a second term so we could work on them, together.

And foremost among those enduring challenges – one we have struggled with for decades – is homelessness.

Let there be no doubt: the collective best efforts of service providers like you have certainly made a difference.

You’re the ones giving heroic efforts as front line staff on a midnight shift in one of our shelters, doing early morning outreach, working as a case manager with a challenging load, or staffing the desk at a drop-in center.

The best evidence of your work are the 20,000 formerly homeless people now living indoors, independently, and with social and emotional supports they need in our City, or back in their hometowns.

But despite this, we haven’t eliminated homelessness. As we house and serve thousands, they’re replaced by new thousands. People who fall into homelessness here. People sent here by other states. Or people who arrive every day seeking a better life in our City.

As a result, we continue to have people living on the street. Under the freeways. In tents on the sidewalks.

Altogether, more than 3,500 people are street homeless in San Francisco – human beings, with hopes and with fears, susceptible to cold and rainy weather. Human beings … who deserve our compassion.

We know there are nearly same number of people without homes living in a shelter, a treatment program or in temporary situations. This isn’t a healthy way to live, especially if children are part of the family.

It’s not just a growing problem in San Francisco, but for major cities across the nation as well, Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu, Seattle and more. And state and federal governments offer us too little assistance.

That’s why next week I’ll be joining five other West Coast Mayors and our federal partners to explore federal funding opportunities and policy changes in the area of homelessness.

I know we look at the streets sometimes, the encampments, the depth and complexity of the problems, and to some, it all might feel so hopeless.

But as your Mayor for the next four years, I’m optimistic.

Today in San Francisco, all of the ingredients for success are already here to end homelessness for thousands of our fellow citizens.

Thanks to a historically strong economy, we have the resources.

We certainly have the creativity and the passion. From our service providers and our city staff, we have the energy required.

We have the public’s support to try new, more effective approaches.

What’s been missing, the ingredient that’s been lacking for generations, is real cooperation.

We can solve street homelessness, but it will require cooperation.

We’ve seen this cooperation at the Navigation Center at 1950 Mission Street. When community providers work with City departments, the private sector and surrounding community, we create national models for ending homelessness.

So next year, we’re going to do something bold that scales up the cooperation and coordination we see at the Navigation Center across all our efforts on homelessness.

We will work together with our community based organizations, advocates, and national experts to change and reform government … to create a new Department with a mission to end homelessness in San Francisco.

I want to acknowledge first the great work of past Mayors Feinstein, Agnos, Jordan, Brown, and Newsom. I want to build on your legacies of addressing homelessness.

And of course, former Supervisor Angela Alioto, who has dedicated her life to this work. Angela, thank you for being here today, and for being such a trusted advisor.

And I’d like to acknowledge the good work of former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, our Director of HOPE for the last four years, for his tireless work with service providers and clients to move people into better lives.

And today, building on the work that came before, we begin … a new agency with the budget and the mandate to solve homelessness.

We will bring together under one roof the multitude of homeless outreach, housing, shelter, and supportive services that exist across our government.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve increased our spending on homelessness because the crisis got worse. But because we didn’t have a central department for homeless, we layered program upon program across a dozen independent departments.

No one agency’s mission was homelessness. Today, we fix that.

With greater coordination comes better results, more efficiency, and deeper accountability.

To make this new department a reality next year, I will be calling upon the leadership of Barbara Garcia, the director of Public Health, Trent Rhorer, the director of Human Services, and Sam Dodge, the Director of HOPE.

Together, we have already implemented some of the most forward-thinking, progressive homeless policies in America.

Creating the nation’s first Navigation Center, which in just nine months has successfully moved more than 250 people off the streets and into healthier settings. Great progress towards ending chronic veterans homelessness. Tackling family homelessness. A new investment in supportive housing of 29 million dollars just this year.

Thank you, Trent, Barbara, and Sam, and your teams, for pouring your hearts into this work. And thank you for joining forces with us to take it to the next level.

And thank you Public Works for keeping our streets so clean, and for always having positive interactions with homeless people with such compassion and patience. Thank you for taking the smelliest, dirtiest jobs in town.

I also want to thank all the people who own single-room occupancy hotels in the City who have cooperated with us to make these units available for people transitioning out of homelessness.

I know some people will say…a department to solve homelessness, Mayor, that’s naïve. We can’t “solve homelessness” in San Francisco.

Well I say we will end homelessness every…single…day – for at least one person, or a family, or a veteran. I know, because I’ve given keys to them to their new homes.

We will end it every day for someone who suffers on our streets.

I want the staff at our new department to come to work every morning with the single-minded focus of ending homelessness for people on our streets.

I want the measure of our work to be, “what did I do to end homelessness on our City’s streets today and give people stable shelter, a home, and a path to a healthier life?”

I want that to be the question each day.

Ending homelessness is simply a matter of priorities. To get there, we have to double-down on programs that work.

We have to coordinate with partners – Federal, State, and other cities – to share our best practices and our challenges.

Congress, as you know, has largely abandoned the homeless, but we in San Francisco and those on the street cannot wait for politics in Washington DC, we must lead with our values.

That is what being a San Franciscan is all about, isn’t it?

To more fully achieve this bold vision, I am inviting a group of national experts to advise us on how to create and set the mandate for this new department.

I have already spoken with President Obama’s point person on homelessness, Matthew Doherty, and he has agreed to advise us on creating this new department.

We want to be aggressive, but we need to be practical as well. How will we define solving street homelessness? What are the most efficient investments we’re currently making, and how can we double down? Is there something we should be doing, that we aren’t?

And I want to invite the Local Homeless Coordinating Board to serve as a formal advisory body during this process.

We’ve already convened San Francisco’s best and brightest on that commission, and we need your input.

I invite all of you – the people doing the hard work day in and day out – to join us in defining this new effort as well, because I will present the plan under my Charter powers with the budget next year.

Foremost among our efforts under the Department will be expanding our successful navigation center program. By removing barriers to entry into the shelter system, and pairing every Navigation Center client with a housing exit, we are making a difference.

We have already committed the funding in this budget year to double our capacity at the Navigation Center. The Department will significantly increase our commitment to this model.

We will coordinate our outreach, service, and housing efforts on Navigation Centers. We will build more centers, and we will secure more housing exits.

Certainly, this requires serious funding.

Since I took office, we are spending almost $100 million per year more on homeless services and housing. My commitment today is this – to never let our City slip backwards on funding our priorities.

That means, moving forward, we’ll spend at least $250 million per year on homeless outreach and supportive housing for tens of thousands of people.

But we all know success isn’t measured by how much money we spend.

Accountability matters.
We will be measured by the number of human beings we help off the streets and into better lives, and by the conditions on our streets that we improve.

So I’m setting an ambitious, but I believe an achievable goal for my second term.

By the time I leave office, we will move at least 8,000 people out of homelessness, forever.

And we’ll build a system that can end a person’s homelessness before it becomes chronic.

This is what we will achieve, together.

And we’ll do it by housing families, veterans, the long-term homeless, and through Homeward Bound and long-term care for the seriously mentally ill.

I also need the private sector and philanthropic partners to participate too. I have already started good conversations with San Francisco’s business leaders, big and small, about a multi-year partnership to add additional Navigation Centers to our City’s portfolio.

To them, I say thank you. You’re stepping up to the plate to help San Francisco’s most vulnerable. I am excited for our partnership to develop more in the coming months.

Just like we started the first Navigation Center – a partnership.

We need more partnership models like our effort to end family homelessness in the elementary schools, which has been a focus of Lynne and Marc Benioff, two great civic leaders.

Letting people live on our streets, exposed to violence and weather, isn’t compassionate. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t safe. It doesn’t represent who we are. It’s not our San Francisco values.

I’m proud of our City coming together over something that used to be controversial. I’m talking about Laura’s Law.

Thank you to Supervisor Mark Farrell for spearheading this effort. An issue that used to divide us now unites us in common cause.

Since we launched the consensus program just last month, we have already received 28 referrals from concerned family members and community service providers. 28 people in need of our help, some of our most severely mentally ill, finally getting that help that they didn’t get before.

Laura’s Law is just one of many compassionate programs we should be doing in partnership with our courts and the District Attorney.

San Francisco values mean we won’t ever lock people up or persecute them just for being mentally ill. That’s simply never going to happen, so long as I’m Mayor.

But we can use the resources of our justice system to make sure people are getting healthier outcomes.

I challenge the courts, the public defender, our District Attorney, and our health providers to come together in the same spirit of collaboration that I have proposed today.

Come together – with your diverse responsibilities and your mandates – to better serve those so desperately in need of help.

It’s not compassionate to let people suffer silently, to medicate with drugs and alcohol, to live an unhealthy life on the streets.

We are empowered to help these seriously mentally ill people, but we first have to agree to cooperate.

In the New Year, I will invite all of the government stakeholders in mental health and criminal justice to convene with me.

I’m bringing this group together to get past the reasons we can't, and figure out the way we can.

Let us for example redesign the 5150 – you know what that is, people in crisis, taken to hospitals for 72 hours, but once they come out, they’re back on the streets and into the same unhealthy settings.

Let’s redesign conservatorship programs to better serve the intended population while respecting their civil liberties.

The seriously mentally ill deserve our best efforts.

As we focus on getting people into healthier settings, we also need to re-focus on people who are not homeless, but who prey on the homeless … drug dealers who target the addicted and mentally ill, contributing to serious health problems.

I’m calling for stepped-up enforcement for predatory drug dealing around Navigation Centers, shelters, and other homeless service locations.

We need to clean up drug dealing around the buildings where homeless people are trying to clean up their own lives.

We are not criminalizing drug addiction, we’re better enforcing existing laws to protect the most vulnerable.

I want to thank President London Breed for being such a leader on these reforms. She has been a strong voice for quality of life in her district, and for reforming our treatment of the mentally ill.

This is why I’m optimistic, my friends. A new department, an ambitious goal, our will to succeed.

We can make homelessness rare, we can make it brief, and we can make it a one-time event in peoples lives.

We can move at least 8,000 people out of homelessness, forever.

For too long, deeply held and honest ideological differences have divided us.

Some say, “We’re not tough enough.” Others, “We’re not compassionate enough.”

“We’re spending too much” or “we’re not spending enough.”

It’s time to reconcile these disagreements – not to set them aside – but to work through them. If we can cooperate to solve homelessness, the sky’s the limit on what we can achieve, together.

Thank you again for taking time to be here today, to listen to me. I am excited for our work ahead.

I know we can do better, together, becauseWe Are San Francisco. Thank you.