The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness.
Greener than they think...
by Elizabeth Ferrari
I suspect many former Dems fled and took refuge, as I did, in the Green Party after the Presidential selection of 2000. Like most refugees, I?m still on a learning curve, still trying to evaluate the ?Ten Key Values? that sets Greens apart from any other political party. Sometimes it takes a concrete opportunity to apply values under construction, and I wanted to relay one that is happening here in San Francisco.
The SF Bay Guardian recently reported that the SF Coalition for the Homeless was in danger of losing their offices due to a funding crisis. The group, run by homeless and formerly homeless people, has been holding City Hall?s feet to the fire for seventeen years. Their resume is a list of successes: supportive housing, a homeless death prevention team, a shelter grievance program. They?ve advocated for affordable housing and living-wage jobs.
The Coalition has a reputation as a tough crowd in a City that might prefer a more compliant, Sunday gloved style of advocacy. What is indisputable is that the Coalition has been the most effective homeless advocacy group in town. San Francisco can?t afford to have their work hampered by inadequate or inconsistent funding.
As reported in the Bay Guardian, local coalitions all over the country are strapped as their funders navigate the Bush Administration?s policy on homelessness, a policy tending to hand down solutions rather than engage stakeholders in generative problem solving. After four years of a Bush White House, its no surprise to learn that support for advocacy-based groups dwindles.
Perhaps because my family faced homelessness in San Francisco, it?s clear to me that Greens should rally around the Coalition. Their philosophy parallels ours. (And in fact, on a recent visit to their offices, now staffed only by volunteers, it was very Green all over.)
My partner is the comedian Doug Ferrari. His story, of struggling with mental illness, homelessness and recovery, got a great deal of coverage. But the larger, community context of his year of homelessness has not.
The loss of our home was my community?s response to a mental health problem. A difficult to access mental health system, DV programs that excluded families like ours, Mobile Psych Services that couldn?t roll on our block, case managers whose waiting lists numbered in months or years. These agencies pursued policies that effectively denied services to us. Their cumulative effect became a presence in our home, a prod that moved us out of our own door. San Francisco has made strides in repairing its mental health system; in those days, it was a labyrinth that more often added to our families? trauma than relieved it.
Doug didn?t get the treatment he needed nor was our family able to survive the situation. I collapsed from the stress, we disbanded, and Doug went homeless.
Isolated by the double stigma of homelessness and mental illness, Doug spent a year in the Tenderloin while I roosted with family and tried to regain my health. Indoors again, Doug and I promised we?d use what we?d learned to prevent other families from undergoing the same funhouse trauma.
That year yielded one primary lesson for me. My compliance with unworkable policies was a disservice to my family and to my community. Mindful of this experience, I raise the issue of our party supporting the Coalition. Their philosophy is to empower themselves and each other, to hold on to their core values even in the face of community resistance. Their list of achievements testifies to the success of this strategy. The Coalition has earned the support of the community they have served so successfully, so long. Their m.o. so closely aligns with ours, I invite my fellow Greens to take a considered look at this entity in San Francisco that has achieved results in a chaotic field of concern, fear and political maneuvering.
Lest we forget, the United States stands alone among industrialized nations in refusing to recognize housing as a basic human right. As one advocate put it, ?Housing is health care!?
To learn more or to make a donation: The SF Coalition on Homelessness: 415 346-3740 www.sf-homeless-coalition.org
Read more about the NHTF Act at www.nationalhomeless.org and at www.npach.org. Also, the National Low Income Housing Coalition's website has a searchable database called "Out of Reach" which indexes local minimum wages and local average wages to the Fair Market Rents for one, two and three bedroom apartments county by county across the US. Find it at www.nlihc.org.
See also ?Homeless Coalition Facing Homelessness?. Rachel Brahinsky, San Francisco Bay Guardian. www.sfbg.com
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