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Living and dying on the street: Demand more workforce housing

January 2, 2018

by Barry Hermanson

More than 200 people died while living on the streets of San Francisco in 2017.

I recently received an invitation from the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness to attend the annual homeless persons memorial on the evening of Dec. 21. In addition to the Coalition, the memorial was co-sponsored by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the San Francisco Night Ministry and Faithful Fools Street Ministry.

Is there real need in San Francisco? Every year for Glide Memorial’s toy giveaway, an over 30-year tradition, the line of thousands of poor and homeless people grows longer as the wealth gap grows wider. Rent in San Francisco is now the highest in the world. “The cost of rent is so high these days,” one mother said. “Usually our Christmas present is having some place to stay.” – Photo: Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle

The memorial was first observed 28 years ago when Rev. Glenda Hope of San Francisco Network Ministries joined with Travelers’ Aid to lead a service. Glenda says: “Sixteen people froze to death on our streets in November and December that year.”

In years gone by, TV news crews occasionally filmed the memorial. There were none this year.

Throughout the evening, readings and songs by community and religious leaders were followed by the most powerful part of the memorial, the reading of the names of those who have died. Twenty-five are read at a time with the sound of a Tibetan bowl being struck after each name – 25, 50, 75, 100.

As the death toll mounted to over 200, my anger grew. Two hundred is more than I ever remember. In most years, it isn’t easy to compile a list. Many prayers were spoken. May this memorial be the last one, was the common desire.

The list usually totals 100 to 150, which adds up to more than 3,000 to 4,000 deaths over 28 years. More deaths than 9/11, just in San Francisco. If we add the numbers from cities and counties all over the country, we may have the equivalent of a 9/11 every year in the United States.

Yet, as a country, we do not treat this crisis for what it is. Politicians describe 9/11 as an attack on our country. In response, there were massive changes in our political and social life. Unfortunately, homeless people dying on our streets isn’t considered an attack on our country. It is a self-inflicted wound that will not heal until those without homes are housed.

Last month, my article was entitled: “Housing is a Human Right.” Homelessness in the United States is a national disgrace.

As the death toll mounted to over 200, my anger grew. Two hundred is more than I ever remember. In most years, it isn’t easy to compile a list. Many prayers were spoken. May this memorial be the last one, was the common desire.

Yet, funding for low income and workforce housing on a national level is a fraction of what it was in the 1970s and very early 1980s, when the first shelters opened. Democratic and Republican leaders have never sought to restore that funding. Cities and counties have been forced to respond because of federal neglect. It isn’t enough.

The California Budget and Policy Center recently sent out this message. “Earlier today, President Trump signed major tax legislation that not only overwhelmingly favors wealthy households and major corporations, but also paves the way for significant spending reductions affecting a wide range of critical public supports and services, such as Medicare, Medicaid, food assistance, housing assistance and others.”

More cuts = More deaths. The 2018 mid-term elections may change the balance of power in Washington, D.C. Unless we demand our legislators restore funding for workforce housing, this crisis will continue.

Homelessness in the United States is a national disgrace.

I don’t want to attend another memorial. No one in the United States should have to live and die on our streets because they have no place to call home.

Barry Hermanson is the San Francisco-based Green Party candidate for U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website, barry4congress.org, and email him at Barry@Barry4Congress.org.

2 thoughts on “Living and dying on the street: Demand more workforce housing

  1. Mel K

    You should invite the homeless folks to sleep in your home with you, Barry. The question is, what have YOU done to make the situation better?

    Reply

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