December 2002 - January 2003
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Street People Leery of 'Care Not Cash'
By Heidi Anderson
If you've heard the election results, then you know that Supervisor Gavin Newsom's "Care Not Cash" measure, known as Prop. N on the Nov. 5 ballot, was approved by 60 percent of San Francisco voters. (In Noe Valley, the vote was 59 percent.) Prop. N's passage means that cash grants to the close to 3,000 homeless adults who now receive general assistance in San Francisco will be cut from $395 to $59 a month, starting as early as July 1. To make up for the cash reduction, the city has promised to provide vouchers for housing, food, and treatment programs.
It's clear that Newsom and a majority of the electorate are looking forward to this overhaul of homeless services. But what do the homeless think of this "end to welfare as we've known it"? To find out the local reaction, the Voice checked in with some of the street people who frequent Noe Valley's commercial strip.
Will There Be Enough Hotel Rooms?
On a recent weekend in November, when the weather swung back and forth between storm and sun, several panhandlers stood at their usual posts on the sidewalks of 24th and Castro streets.
Among them was Anthony, a 50-year-old man who has been homeless for more than two years. Anthony, who preferred not to give his last name (like several others in this story), gets money by selling the Street Sheet, a newspaper put out by the Coalition on Homelessness. Like most of the people we talked to, he is skeptical of the new law.
"I'm just hoping the hotels will accept the vouchers we get," he says, while watching the pedestrian traffic outside Walgreen's on Castro Street.
Ironically, Anthony was set to receive his first government assistance check in November. "I start this week getting government assistance. I'll get $197.50 every two weeks. A homeless hotel room costs about $40 a night," he says. With that money, and the panhandling he does in Noe Valley, he can probably make his income stretch till the end of the month, he says.
But he is worried about what will happen when the cuts go into effect this summer. "I'm just hoping with the voucher program, there are enough hotels willing to take those things."
He also thinks Prop. N shows a rise in paternalistic attitudes toward the homeless. "Some people here come by and say, 'I'll give you food because I don't know what you'll really do with my money.' The city is saying the same thing with Prop. N."
Crime May Go Up
Frankie, another Street Sheet seller, often hangs out in front of the Real Food Company on 24th Street. He too is homeless, and is currently sleeping in a shelter at night. At 38, he says he has been panhandling on 24th Street off and on for 10 years. If he's lucky, he can make $45 dollars in a five-hour shift. "I'd say about 60 percent of the people here are nice," he says. "Only about 40 percent come at you in ways like 'Get a job' and all that."
As for Prop. N, "it's not going to really affect me," he says. "I know how to survive, and I only do this to get a few dollars for food when I'm between jobs."
Still, he is afraid other, more desperate homeless people might be driven to commit crimes. "I mean, hey, this is a tourist city," he says. "Other homeless are going to see those folks with the expensive cameras walking around like always. Maybe now they'll go ahead and take that camera--you know, for the money."
Eddie, who often trades off with Anthony in front of Walgreen's, recently moved into housing in the Tenderloin, taking himself off government assistance. But he still sells the Street Sheet on 24th Street, to make rent and food money. "I don't see the point of just standing there with a cup in my hand," he remarks.
Eddie says he's happy with his new place in the Tenderloin and the big step away from depending on the government. "I'm glad I don't have to worry about Prop. N or anything like that anymore."
Even if he did, though, he would avoid staying in the city's homeless shelters. "Shelters are just bad," he says. "I don't recommend them at all." He points to his feet and then pats the back of his head. "You have to sleep with your head on your shoes, because you know they'll get taken from you."
'Government Too Cheap'
Alfreda, 39, has been panhandling on 24th Street for about eight years. She says she takes care of 10 children and sometimes brings one or two of her kids with her when she comes to Noe Valley. On this afternoon, she is alone sitting on a crate in front of Real Food Company.
"I used to be on Valencia Street and Potrero Hill," she notes, "but I like it here because people love my kids. Sometimes they'll buy me food, too."
Because she has children, Alfreda receives Social Security benefits instead of the type of government assistance that will be cut by Prop. N.
However, she shares the others' somewhat cynical view of Care Not Cash. "I just think it's because the government is too cheap."
She also believes Prop. N's stinginess with cash could backfire and make people turn to drug-dealing. "Think about it: All of a sudden they've got no money, but they can get a room. They're going to use the privacy of those hotel rooms to deal more drugs to get the money they need."
She shakes her head and sighs. "I'm so glad I'm on Social Security."
A Newsom Campaign Tactic
Another 24th Street regular is Albert Mioduszewski, a 57-year-old Vietnam veteran. Mioduszewski often sells Street Sheets while sitting on a bench in front of Hot Headz hair salon. "This street reminds me of San Francisco when I moved here in '59 with my parents," he says. "The people all know each other, and the buildings are nice."
Mioduszewski is not homeless, but he has given Prop. N a lot of thought. "Prop. N? I think Newsom just did a good campaign for future mayor," he says.
He also doubts whether the "care" part of Care Not Cash will actually be implemented. "I mean, I could sit here and crank out ideas, too. But making them happen...well?"
Mioduszewski says he receives $796 a month in veteran's benefits. "I sell Street Sheets to supplement that. I obviously need to." And he's grateful to have a place to live right now. But it still bothers him that the city doesn't put more energy into creating shelters for the homeless.
"There are so many empty warehouses, even that armory on 14th and Mission. That could house 300 people or so. Why not do something about that?"