Fighting Homelessness in San Francisco

The situation in San Francisco as it relates to the proposed new tax on business is updated in this story from the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

SAN FRANCISCO—Christin Evans and Gwen Kaplan both run small businesses in neighborhoods they say have become overrun with homeless encampments.

Like most San Francisco residents, they agree the problem has grown to an unprecedented scale, with homeless people taking drugs, using the streets as toilets and showing signs of mental breakdown.

“Clients get out of their cars and say, ‘What is going on here?’,” said Ms. Kaplan, whose direct-marketing business abuts a tent city. “There are all those homeless people and needles and prostitution.”

But Ms. Kaplan and Ms. Evans hold opposing views on Proposition C, a ballot measure Nov. 6 that would impose a tax increase on large corporations to raise money to assist the homeless. Recent polling showed San Franciscans evenly divided on the proposal.

The measure would raise about $300 million next year, according to estimates. San Francisco now spends $380 million on homelessness, one of the biggest such budgets in the U.S., according to a city analysis.

“We have such tremendous wealth in San Francisco that we don’t have a choice but to invest in more shelters for these people,” said Ms. Evans, who owns a bookstore and two other businesses in the Haight-Ashbury district where hundreds of homeless sleep in doorways, along sidewalks and beneath trees.

The tax increase on gross receipts would be levied on roughly 300 big companies with more than $50 million in revenue. Ms. Kaplan—who co-owns a direct-marketing firm in the city’s Mission district—said she feared those companies would spend less as a result and hurt thousands of smaller businesses like hers. “We feel a tax on big business in a roundabout way is a tax on all of us,” she said.

Homelessness has grown to crisis proportions in a number of American cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Honolulu. But in few places is the juxtaposition of haves and have-nots as jarring as San Francisco. Many of the city’s 7,500 homeless live in tents, cardboard boxes or on the open street in the shadow of gleaming new skyscrapers built during the city’s ongoing technology boom.

Housing prices have skyrocketed in the city in recent years, pushing some onto the streets. Homeless people also flock to San Francisco because of its mild climate and generous social services, say people who have worked with the population.

Believing the problem had reached a tipping point, social-services nonprofits earlier this year teamed with some civic and business leaders to come up with Proposition C.

“We have a lot of programs that are working, but because the problem has gotten so big, we need a lot more help,” said Salesforce . com Chief Executive Marc Benioff, one of the measure’s most outspoken proponents. His company would pay as much as $11 million more in taxes under the measure, he has said.

Many others in San Francisco’s business community—including fellow tech titans like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—oppose the measure, as does Mayor London Breed, a Democrat. They cite concerns about accountability for the new spending and how higher taxes would impact the economy.

The effort to pass Proposition C has raised about $8 million, much of that from Mr. Benioff and Salesforce. The campaign to defeat it has attracted $2 million.

Under Proposition C, about 4,000 new or improved housing units would be added for the homeless. There are now about 1,200 shelter beds, for which there is usually a long waiting list. Mental-health and other services would also be enhanced.

Opponents say the added resources could just attract more homeless from other California cities grappling with the same problem.

“If we were able to get 7,000 people housed, then 7,000 more would take their place,” said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which advocates a regional approach with other cities.

Retrieved November 1, 2018 from


About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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