No More Children Living in the Streets

Please join us for a community meeting on Thursday, March 7, 2024, from 6:00-7:00 pm in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, 3215 Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco, where homeless immigrant leaders will ask public officials to commit to supporting their plan to ensure there are no more children living in the streets of San Francisco.

Immigrant children raising money for hotel rooms so they don't have to sleep on the streets

San Francisco is seeing a surge in newly arrived immigrant families fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. Since 1989, San Francisco has been a Sanctuary City, upholding the dignity of all people and welcoming those who need a safe place to call home. But today we are not living up to our San Francisco values: Since last summer, all of our family shelters have been full, with more than 200 families on the waiting list, so young children are sleeping in cars, on buses, and on the pavement under gas station roofs.

Over the past five months, the Recently Arrived Families Committee of Faith in Action Bay Area, comprised of directly impacted asylum seekers who are currently living in shelters or on the street, have met multiple times with high-level staff from the Department of Homelessness and six City Supervisors.

Our City government has helped a few individual families in response to public pressure, but in general they are saying they do not have enough resources and there is little more they can do. But we know there are cost-effective solutions, including resources that San Francisco voters have already approved, which the City is not using to address this moral crisis.

On January 17, the immigrant families sent a letter to Shireen McSpadden, Director of the Department of Homelessness, urgently requesting a meeting and proposing concrete solutions. Director McSpadden responded by re-stating the Department’s lack of resources and ignoring the families’ proposals and request for a meeting.

On Thursday, March 7, 2024, from 6:00-7:00 pm in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, 3215 Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco, the Recently Arrived Families Committee will host a community meeting to present their experiences and the results of their research. They will ask Homelessness Director McSpadden and City Supervisors to attend and commit to the following:

  1. We call on the Department of Homelessness to guarantee shelter space or a hotel voucher the same day that any family with children arrives at a City Access Point.
  2. We call on the Department of Homelessness to expedite the movement of families from shelters into more permanent housing, with an online public dashboard where families and the public can monitor the waiting list and movement of families into permanent housing

(more background below)

The Recently Arrived Families Committee delivering their letter to Homlessness Director McSpadden (the homeless baby in the stroller has been registered with the CIty's Department of Homelessness for over a month now but has received no shelter)

The two-part plan was developed by the immigrant families themselves in response to the City government’s lack of action and is rooted in their lived experience and their research with the City. Here is a bit more background:

Guaranteeing same-day access to shelter space or a hotel voucher is the only feasible and humane way to ensure there are no more children living in the streets of San Francisco. Currently the City’s so-called “Access Points” are a cruel farce. Recently arrived immigrant families are directed there with the expectation of receiving shelter. What happens instead is they are told, “You haven’t been homeless long enough to qualify for assistance,” and they’re sent away with a small packet of MUNI tokens. Families are put on a waiting list but there is no transparency about where they are on the list, other than the warning that they should expect to wait months.

Hotel vouchers are a cost-effective way to keep children off the streets. In fact, they are cheaper than the emergency shelters run by the City: Hotels cost  ~$100 per night, compared to ~$180 per family per night in a congregate shelter. Because of the City government’s inability to provide shelter, the recently arrived families themselves organized a private fundraising effort in November and have been providing hotel rooms to some desperate families, so we know it’s not that expensive and not that difficult. (Thanks so much to those of you who attended the event or contributed to the Belong Emergency Fund and made this possible!)

A major reason the family shelters are full is due to the slow progress in moving families out of the shelters and into more permanent housing. Many members of the Recently Arrived Families Committee have been staying in congregate shelters for 4 months or more, and their children are suffering the consequences. These shelters are designed to be temporary emergency housing, but families are languishing there for months on end.

Valuable public resources already funded by taxpayers are not being distributed to families in need. For example, there is a fantastic program in the Department of Homelessness called the Family Flex Subsidy program, where a family can move out of shelter and into a private apartment; the family pays 30% of their income in rent and the subsidy pays the rest. This program is already funded through revenue from 2018’s Prop C, yet out of 165 subsidies available, only about 50 are currently being used. Asylum seeking families are desperate to work and build toward financial stability, and this program is exactly the kind of support they need—but instead they are stuck on the street or in congregate shelters.

We know that the voters of San Francisco want immigrant families, and all homeless families, to receive shelter and basic supports. In recent years, voters have approved multiple ballot measures to increase funding for housing assistance and affordable housing. The most recent data shows that there are 61,473 vacant housing units in San Francisco. The City government has resources, and it is a failure of leadership if those resources cannot be used to ensure that no children are sleeping on the streets of San Francisco.