The Democratic Mayor of San Francisco announced a plan Tuesday morning to address the city’s drug and homelessness crises that would require residents to undergo substance abuse screening and treatment to be eligible to receive welfare funds.
“We need to make a significant change,” Mayor London Breed said at a Tuesday morning news conference. “No more ‘anything goes’ without accountability, no more handouts without accountability.”
“San Francisco is a city of compassion, but also a city that demands accountability,” Breed said. “We fund a wide range of services, and we want to help people get the care they need but under current state law, local government lack tools to compel people into treatment. This initiative aims to create more accountability and help get people to accept the treatment and services they need.”
In order for her proposal to become law, Breed will need to get it approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Board President Aaron Perkin said Tuesday that the mayor was “grasping for a political lifeline,” and predicted that the policy would fail, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
Breed’s announcement came the same day Daniel Lurie, philanthropist and an heir to the Levi Strauss & Co. fortune, formally announced his 2024 Democratic challenge to unseat Breed as mayor.
Supervisor Matt Dorsey, a recovering addict and former police department spokesman, said he strongly supports Mayor Breed’s initiative because it will “better incentivize treatment and recovery for a population that’s at wildly disproportionate risk for drug addiction and overdose fatalities.”
“We’re facing an unprecedented loss of life in San Francisco, and we know coercive interventions can work,” Dorsey added.
San Francisco Human Services Agency Executive Director Trent Rhorer told the Chronicle that a city survey found that 52 percent of the city’s homeless population said that substance abuse was their disabling condition.
About 5,200 San Francisco residents receive welfare benefits through the County Adult Assistance Program, which in Fiscal Year 2022 administered a total of $30.3 million.
The program guarantees homeless residents $105 per month and a shelter bed.
Mayor Breed has had her hands tied for months by an injunction preventing the city from enforcing laws against sitting, lying, or sleeping on public streets and sidewalks for people who are “involuntarily homeless.”
The injunction came as part of a Sept. 2022 lawsuit filed against the city for its policy of encampment resolution by the “Coalition on Homelessness” and other homeless advocate plaintiffs.
However, in Sept. 2023. the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals clarified that individuals are not “involuntarily homeless” if they have declined a specific offer of available shelter or otherwise have access to such shelter or have the means to obtain it.
The ruling allows Breed to enforce laws against the city’s now-voluntarily homeless individuals.
“People who have been offered available shelter should not be allowed to remain out camping on our streets,” the Democratic mayor wrote in a Medium post Tuesday. “We will keep working to help get people off of our streets, into shelter, and on a path to stability, and keep our neighborhoods clean and safe for all.”
The situation faced by San Francisco’s Mayor is not unlike that of Portland, Maine, which faces a homelessness crisis of its own, with approximately 245 tents in encampments citywide.
Homeless advocacy groups protested Portland’s policy of encampment resolutions after the Encampment Crisis Response Team (ECRT) swept the Fore River Parkway encampment on Sept. 6.
Buried in a draft of an emergency declaration related to Portland’s encampment crisis considered by the City Council Tuesday, was the revelation that the city had spent more than $65,000 attempting to offer the almost 100 individuals in the Fore River encampment housing before they cleaned it out.
Just 18 of those nearly 100 homeless individuals living in the encampment took the city up on its offers of services and housing — making those that refused housing not involuntarily homeless under the Ninth Circuit Court’s definition.
The City Council is considering relaxing certain building ordinances and fire codes to add an additional 150 beds to the city’s Homeless Services Center, a project estimated to cost over $130,000.