Mayor Breed wants to spend $1 billion on homelessness in San Francisco over next two years

San Francisco Chronicle, June 1, 2021

By Trisha Thadani

Mayor London Breed is proposing more than $1 billion in new funding to address homelessness over the next two years — a staggering amount that she hopes will finally make a dent in the city’s most vexing problem.

That proposal, announced Tuesday as part of her wider plan for the city’s upcoming $13.1 billion budget, is on top of the $300 million or so already spent directly on homelessness each year. The historic investment reflects the intense pressure Breed and other city leaders are under to address the thousands living on the streets, in shelters and in unstable housing.

Breed said at a Tuesday press conference that the investment includes “more housing more placements, more people living indoors.”

“Yes, this is a historic investment for our city, but we have to be honest with ourselves,” she said. “If we’re going to see change on our streets, it takes more than money. We also have to have the will to make the change.”|

She said the city will try to assist people struggling with addiction to get into recovery, but “for those exhibiting harmful behavior, whether to themselves or to others, or those refusing assistance, we will use every tool we have to get them into treatment and services, to get them indoors. We won’t accept people just staying on the streets, when we have a place for them to go.”

It’s unclear exactly how many homeless people are currently in San Francisco, but the number has certainly swelled over the past few years. The city’s official count in 2019 logged more than 8,000 homeless, a 30% rise from two years prior. Other counts have suggested there may be as many as 17,000 homeless in the city.

At the same time, homelessness funding has also significantly increased. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s budget has increased by 80% since it was created in 2016, to $364 million in the most recent fiscal year. Meanwhile, Prop. C., a 2018 ballot measure that taxes big businesses for homeless services, is expected to raise $250 million to $300 million per year.

Indirect spending on homelessness is likely much higher, as the crisis touches many different parts of the city — from police officers responding to reports of people sleeping on the streets to Department of Public Works cleaners who sweep away tents, human feces and trash.

If the Board of Supervisors approves Breed’s massive spending plan this summer, it will likely put even more pressure on City Hall to ensure the money makes a noticeable difference on the city’s streets.

The majority of Breed’s proposed homelessness investment comes from $800 million collected by Prop. C, which she did not support in 2018. The rest would come from the city’s general fund, a 2020 bond measure, state funding and one-time funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, which helped erase a massive, pandemic-induced budget deficit earlier this year.

Under her proposal, the money would go toward initiatives like capping all permanent supportive housing rent at 30% of a resident’s income, funding two new RV parking sites and continuing a 40-bed emergency shelter for families. The mayor also wants to create 6,000 new housing placements by June 2022, which includes buying new hotels to convert to housing, purchasing or leasing new permanent supportive housing units, housing vouchers or buying people bus tickets back to family and friends of town.

“As we move forward out of the pandemic this budget will ensure that our recovery is equitable and that we are delivering solutions to the most important issues impacting our city,” Breed said in a statement. Along with homelessness funding, Breed is also proposing $300 million, or a 36% increase in additional funding from the year prior for mental health and drug treatment services as overdoses skyrocket in the city.

“And as we change how we respond to people on the streets, we also need places for them to go,” Breed said Tuesday. “We can have all the outreach teams in the world, but if we don’t have housing shelter and treatment beds, we are gonna see those same people right back on the streets again and again and again.”

In total, San Francisco has a $13.1 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and $12.8 billion for the following year. That is slightly less than last year’s $13.6 billion budget, as big city departments like the San Francisco International Airport generated less revenue amid the pandemic.

As for the pandemic outlook, Breed said Tuesday that 80% of the city’s eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and that she “can finally declare with pride and confidence that we are literally out of the woods — but keep your mask on.”

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance committee will hold a series of hearings this summer on the mayor’s proposed plan. The full board will then vote on the proposal before returning it to the mayor for her signature around Aug. 1.

This could be a fraught process between the mayor and board, who have historically disagreed on how the money should be spent — particularly when it comes to homelessness funding, the city’s rainy day reserves and Prop. I, a 2020 real estate transfer tax measure.

Supervisor Matt Haney, who serves as the chair of the budget committee and the Board’s de-facto gatekeeper for the city’s spending plan, said in a statement Tuesday that his top priorities are investing in communities of color that have been most impacted by the pandemic, addressing hate crimes and violent attacks, and funding innovative homelessness and mental health programs led by public health professionals.

As the drug overdose epidemic kills more than two people a day in the city, Haney said the budget should also “include a plan and the resources to expand treatment and outreach, stop the overdose epidemic, and save lives.”

The mayor’s proposed two-year spending plan also includes:

Public safety

Breed is proposing $65 million for violence prevention and safety. That includes funding to maintain current police staffing levels through two new academy classes for about 100 new officers. Those officers would replace those who have retired or left the force.

“Let’s be clear, keeping our city safe also does require law enforcement,” she said Tuesday. “That means making sure we have officers on our streets, walking the beat and responding to crimes.”

While activists called for city leaders to redirect resources away from law enforcement to the community, Breed has been clear that she would not shrink the number of officers in San Francisco.

Instead, she has supported new outreach teams of mental health professionals to respond to those on the streets — although there aren’t currently enough to shift all mental-health related 911 calls away from cops.

The mayor’s budget also continues the $60 million annual investment in the Dream Keeper Initiative, which redirects money from the police and sheriff’s department into programs that support the city’s Black and African American community.

The law enforcement budget - which includes funding to maintain current police staffing levels as well as investing in non-officer responses to homelessness and mental health crises - is sure to receive pushback.

In May, a hearing before a Board of Supervisors committee on alternatives to law enforcement drew dozens of callers. Most pushed to defund the police and invest more in community services, mental health services and education. A smaller contingent called for maintaining or even increasing law enforcement funding, citing a pandemic-rise in burglaries and violent street attacks.

Mental health and substance use

As overdoses skyrocket in the city, Breed is proposing $300 million in new investments for drug treatment and mental health services.

That funding would include more funding for medication-assisted treatment, a new drug sobering site and expanded distribution of Narcan, an opioid reversal drug.

Economic recovery

Breed wants to spend $477 million over the two years to “drive and accelerate” the city’s economic recovery.

The majority would be spent on the city’s remaining COVID-19 response, which includes funding to sustain the city’s homeless hotel program until the beginning of 2022. It also includes money for food security programs, vaccinations and testing.

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