Legislative Update: A Place for All

Zak Franet June 1, 2022

Zak Franet is a Director at Ground Floor Public Affairs, a San Francisco based government relations and community outreach firm, who has supported the work of the All In Campaign since its launch. He also has lived experience with homelessness, having spent his early adulthood on the streets of Oakland, CA. Zak also serves on the Community Advisory Council for All Home CA, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness and promoting affordable housing throughout the Bay Area. 

An intriguing proposal to combat our community’s most intractable issue

On March 22nd, 2022, an ambitious proposal to address street homelessness was introduced by District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandleman. The Ordinance, known colloquially as A Place for All (APFA), would require the City and County of San Francisco to provide a safe place to sleep to anyone who requested it (San Francisco’s 2022 Point in Time survey counted over 4,300 people who were unsheltered). 

Supervisor Mandelman has been trying to create a universal emergency shelter program for a few years, but this latest proposal already has the support of three of his colleagues on the Board, and is one of several new proposals to increase temporary shelter and interim housing

Mandelman’s first proposal focused on the City’s Safe Sleeping Site program; this program was implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and instituted city-sanctioned tent encampments on City-owned property, complete with security, hygiene facilities, and on-site staffing. 

While the program  succeeded in providing a non-congregate alternative to traditional shelter models, its high price tag, (~$61,000/tent annually), and pushback from advocates of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) expansion, led to its ultimate demise. In order to overcome the political headwinds of the previous ordinance, this version has broadened its focus to encompass more than just the Safe Sleep program. 

We must consider all viable options, particularly when people experiencing unsheltered homelessness express a desire for them. 

Let’s take a deeper dive into Supervisor Mandelman’s Ordinance. 

Under the hood: AFPA’s core tenets

A Place for All would require the City and County of San Francisco to:

  • Offer every person experiencing homelessness in San Francisco a safe place to sleep
  • Require the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) to create an implementation plan within three months of the legislation passing. 
  • Require the Department of Real Estate to submit a survey of parcels suitable for shelter programs
  • Under the APFA model, the definition of shelter includes, but is not limited to:
    • Congregate facilities 
    • Non-congregate facilities (At least 50% of the units must be non-congregate)
    • Navigation Centers
    • Shelter in Place Hotels
    • Safe Sleep Sites (No more than 20% of the  units can be Safe Sleep Sites)
    • Tiny Homes

At face value, what’s not to like? San Francisco has no legal—but I would argue it has a moral— obligation to provide housing, or at minimum, shelter, to people experiencing homelessness. Enshrining a right to shelter in the City Charter represents a possible step towards accountability because failing to shelter everyone will open up a viable path to litigation against the City, which in the past has proven to lead to a swift response from the City.

All of this sounds good, so why the controversy? 

How do we pay for it?

The elephant in the room, as always, is cost. Under the APFA program the City would only be “require[d] to operate the Program subject to the budgetary and fiscal provisions of the Charter, and would require the appropriation of funds by the Board of Supervisors.” That’s a fancy smancy way of saying that the City’s obligation to provide everyone with shelter is contingent upon the City agreeing to pay for it. 

That’s a big ‘if!’ Furthermore, there is a growing anxiety that the funds to pay for the program will come at the expense of current investments in PSH which are being funded through Proposition C, effectively hamstringing the initiative before allowing it a chance to succeed. 

Investments in expanded shelter cannot come at the cost of permanent housing. But with a $13Bn city budget, they shouldn’t need to. 

The question we must then ask ourselves is not whether or not a shelter expansion is inherently good or bad policy, but at what cost? 

Supervisor Mandelman’s colleagues also had questions about the ordinance, going as far as to amend it so substantively that Mandelman is unsure if it will pass in its current form. The revised ordinance, which was supported unanimously at last week’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting, incorporated the following changes:

  • Added Permanent Supportive Housing as a potential solution to achieving the goal of providing all people experiencing homelessnes with a safe place to sleep. 
  • Required the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to implement a system by which people experiencing homelessness may register for shelter by telephone.

Both of these additions are well founded and reasonable but could detract from Supervisor Mandelman’s original intent of an immediate influx of emergency shelter. Nothing in San Francisco is ever easy. 

What’s next?

The revised ordinance will now go before the full Board of Supervisors for a first hearing on June 7. Should it receive a majority vote on June 7 and a subsequent hearing, the ordinance will pass, and assuming it isn’t vetoed (8 members of the Board can override a Mayoral veto), it will become law within 30 days. 

Make no mistake about it, this proposal is a big deal. It would represent a significant shift in the way that the city addresses homelessness. I anticipate that there will be a lot of public comment on both sides of the issue. As advocates for greater public engagement, I urge each of you to attend next Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors to listen to the debate and weigh in if you so choose. Homelessness is our political third rail and consensus remains elusive. That actually means we need more voices to weigh in, not fewer. 

Irrespective of the outcome, I hope that the hearing will lead to a robust and substantive dialogue and positive outcomes for our unhoused neighbors.

In Solidarity,
Zak Franet