What S.F. Can Learn From Salt Lake City

Trent Rhorer, who runs the Human Services Agency, and Bevan Dufty, the mayor’s chief of homelessness policy, concede that Salt Lake’s bounty of case managers and high-quality supportive housing are just what San Francisco needs. The trouble, they say, is funding. “Exits like that are harder here than in Salt Lake,” Rhorer said. “Where are they going to exit to in this high-cost market? We need more federal housing subsidies, and we need to leverage our public housing more than we do.”

Dufty said: “Look, we’re going to spend the money one way or another — either through expensive jail, shelter, emergency calls and so forth, or by investing in housing. It’s so clear what the best way to spend it is. With housing you not only give people better lives, you save money in the long run.”

Plywood mattress

Some of San Francisco’s homeless housing complexes are national showpieces along the lines of what is in Salt Lake. But too often, they aren’t. And too often, the route into them is discouraging.

Robin Wilden, 62, has been homeless for most of the past decade and uses a wheelchair because a bicycle accident six years ago left one leg several inches shorter than the other. She was placed into temporary housing this year at the Baldwin House residential hotel on gritty Sixth Street — which outreach counselors use as transitional residence for the chronically homeless, some of whom live there for as long as a year. But she rarely stayed at it because the bed she was given was a sheet of plywood and roaches crawled on her legs.

Now she sleeps on Market Street near Van Ness Avenue and drowns her misery by day with vodka.

“Is this how San Francisco helps the homeless — putting us in a trash can?” she said, sobbing. “That place was so depressing. Why would I want to stay in it?”

Ten Years After from San Francisco Chronicle on Vimeo.

‘We don’t do rats’

Such housing doesn’t appear to exist in Salt Lake, even as transitional units.

“We don’t do rats and roaches here,” Pendleton said. “We only do first-rate housing where you can move inside, and then actually feel like you want to move forward in your life.”

Pendleton said one factor to keep in mind is that “90 percent of chronically homeless people grew up disadvantaged from the start, in abusive or underprivileged homes.”

“You are not rehabilitating them,” he said, “because so many of them were never habilitated to begin with. You are creating new lives for them.”

Thus the emphasis on targeting the hardest of the hard- core for housing.

Leading the way

Such a task requires everyone involved — businesses, nonprofit agencies, government — to march in the same direction, led by a dynamic leader, Pendleton said. In Salt Lake and the rest of Utah, he is that leader.

Pendleton had been a director of the Mormon Church’s international charity programs before wading into the state’s street problem. When he retired from the church in 2005 to lead Utah’s homeless efforts, he was familiar with every nonprofit, private and governmental agency that counted — and had years of accumulated authority to give him heft.

San Francisco had such a leader in ex-Mayor Gavin Newsom when he backed the city’s 10-year plan and other initiatives. But since he left in 2010 to become lieutenant governor, many observers say, another leader on that scale has not emerged.

Salt Lake also benefits from the Mormon connection — the church contributes several million dollars in effort and donations on top of the $20 million the city spends on the homeless each year, Pendleton estimates.

There is no equivalent in San Francisco, but Pendleton and Bamberger say there’s one potential source that has not been tapped nearly as much as it should be: the cash-rich tech industry.

“If I was there, I would say to the tech industry leaders, ‘The money is important, but why don’t you loan us one of your brightest executives for a couple of years to help us organize a system to bring together the city, the state, the nonprofits — everyone?’.” Pendleton said. “You need a champion.”

Source : https://www.sfchronicle.com/archive/item/What-S-F-can-learn-from-Salt-Lake-City-30428.php

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