RescueSF wants to end homelessness in San Francisco, not in the next 10 years, but now. The coalition of neighborhood associations and concerned individuals plans to accomplish that goal by calling for a set of common solutions to be implemented throughout San Francisco, and the Bay Area.
“In the past when we talked to district supervisors, they said, ‘I’m one of 11. What can I do?’ We realized we needed to address that,” said Mark Nagel, RescueSF’s co-founder and a Marina resident. “We realized we needed to be citywide so when we talked to the supervisors they couldn’t say, ‘You’re some group that’s not part of my district.’”
RescueSF co-founder Lori Brooke, Cow Hollow Association president, added, “We’re a bigger voice if we can unite as one.”
In February roughly 45 people gathered at Fort Mason to discuss how to address homelessness, including presidents or board members of Cow Hollow Association, Marina Community Association, Golden Gate Valley Association, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Russian Hill Neighbors Association, Russian Hill Community Association, Presidio Heights Association of Neighbors, and Pacific Heights Residents Association.
“We’re not experts in homelessness,” said Brooke. “But we wanted to do something about it. There’s so much behind the homelessness situation and we wanted to dig deep to understand what’s happening and how to create effective change. We started calling and interviewing folks from around the country. We couldn’t hold all the information in our heads, so we started a speaker series.”
Over the past few months, the Coalition has held video calls with Dr. Margot Kushel, University of California (UC) San Francisco Center for Vulnerable Populations director, and David Faigman, UC Hastings dean, among others, to educate participants. Membership is loose knit; roughly 30 neighborhood associations have expressed interest in joining the Coalition. Individuals can register on RescueSF’s website to receive email updates.
“It’s illuminating to hear from various voices, experts in different fields, to get their perspective on homelessness,” Brooke said. “It takes away the fever pitch of anger. Everyone has a right to care about San Francisco and we understand there is frustration with the City’s deterioration. But we also want to be compassionate about the causes of the homelessness. You can be angry at homelessness but not angry at the homeless.”
The Coalition has floated a three-pronged plan to stop homelessness: prohibit street sleeping; expand mental health services; and keep people housed.
“Street sleeping is not safe, healthy, or compassionate,” Nagel said. “Homeless people must have sustainable, interim shelter until they move into permanent housing. We have to get people off the streets into safety and there are lots of ways to do that, which is the government’s job to explore. It could be tiny houses or RVs on piers. That has to happen. We have to end street sleeping.”
Some unhoused people are in crisis, presenting a danger to themselves and others, and need mental health services, Nagel added. RescueSF has asked its members to contact their supervisors and the Mayor to support psychological interventions for unhoused people.
“We have to look downstream, where our homeless residents currently on the street need a path to permanent housing and appropriate services,” Nagel and Brooke wrote in an email. “But we can’t end there. We also have to look upstream, where people need to remain housed in order to prevent future homelessness.”
Homelessness isn’t exclusive to San Francisco. RescueSF is engaging with regional and state governments to find solutions. The group hopes that a consistent approach to house people will obviate individuals moving from one place to another in search of viable shelter.
According to Katherine Doumani, president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, a RescueSF member, “The homeless crisis has always been a great concern for everyone in San Francisco and many attempts have been made to help find the cause and solutions over the years with varying degrees of success, including care-not-cash, the navigation centers, more housing and rooms, but all appear to be failing or moving too slow to help nonetheless. However, with the pandemic, the status quo is inhumane, unacceptable, and worse than I have seen in all my years living in San Francisco. It is imperative that we help people get off the streets during this pandemic. It is unconscionable to leave people in crowded sidewalk cities with the current health crisis. I have heard the same sentiment from many of my neighbors and friends throughout San Francisco.”
“San Francisco’s housed residents have been passive and haven’t had a seat at the table in terms of policy in San Francisco. Our voice has been missed along with other groups. We want to have our voices heard,” Nagel said.