Voluntary Services First!

by Tory

Various nonprofit organizations, Senior and Disability Action, Coalition on Homelessness, The Mental Health Association are leading the push to stop the draconian implementation of SB 1045 in san francisco.  SB 1045, as was explained in the last UltraViolet, is a developer-backed bill allowing for three pilot california cities to expand conservatorship of people with both psychiatric disabilities and substance abuse issues.  It is a naked attempt to target houseless people and remove them from the streets.  

The san francisco board of stupervisors is rushing to implement this law, responding to pressure from the wealthy elite complaining about the “unsightly” homeless encampments, interfering with the ease of their relentless gentrification. The Voluntary Services First Coalition, as the name suggests, is pushing for actually providing services and housing as a way to solve this problem.  It is such a simple idea and apparently too complicated for city politicians: if  real housing, drug treatment on demand and accessible mental health services existed, homeless encampments would shrink!

The Voluntary Services First Coalition had its first public event on November 30 at the san francisco public library.  There was a panel discussion with a slide show about the bill and then a Q&A.  To the coalition’s surprise at least 100 or so people showed up; about two thirds were people involved in providing services in sf and a third people who might be impacted by the law.  Jennifer from The  Coalition on Homelessness showed a slide show which discussed the history of the marginalization of disabled people in california and san francisco. In 1867, san francisco was the first u.s. city to pass “ugly laws”, which made it illegal for people with visible disabilities to be seen in public.  california involuntarily sterilized more people than any other state.  There was also a good firsthand account by someone who had been incarcerated for having psychiatric problems.  Susan Minzer from the ACLU disability rights project talked about how SB1045 would significantly curb people’s civil rights.  The coalition distributed a survey giving people a chance to express their personal experiences.  People also gave revealing testimony during the Q&A both as impacted people and as providers struggling with inadequate resources.

The coalition has several differing world views in the approach to fighting this egregious plan.  Many sf nonprofit organizations have a long history of involvement with city hall and are adept at knowing who and how to talk to the city politicians.  To that end there have been a number of meetings with the board with less than hopeful outcomes. Mayor london breed has been using this law as a public relations stunt to prove she is doing something about those pesky homeless people plaguing her golden city. Board members, it would seem, are nervous about going against her.  Some people in the coalition feel we should be devising amendments to the legislation to mitigate the effects of the legislation.  The coalition has been participating in “stakeholder” meetings convened by the board of stupervisors.  LAGAI-Queer Insurrection, Gay Shame, Poor Magazine and others have urged fighting the implementation of the legislation altogether, calling for a grassroots movement led by impacted people. Having done some fliering and talking with people around the sf library, it is clear to me that houseless people are aware of this push to expand conservatorship and are very concerned about it.  By offering amendments and going to stakeholders’ meetings, some us feel that the coalition is legitimizing the legislation before a real movement opposing it has taken hold.

On December 19, Voluntary Services First will be doing an action in which they sing doctored xmas carols dressed up in grinch masks in the halls of city hall.  Along with the political caroling, people will march around the civic center and the library doing outreach about the issue.

The legislation will likely go to the board rules committee in early January. The coalition will put a call out for people to attend and raise hell.  Poor Magazine is working with impacted people to organize a demonstration.  There needs to be a bigger, more vociferous movement, one that puts impacted people front and center, one that insists on  comprehensive accessible services for mental illness and good housing for everyone.


Gay Shame graphic against conservatorship

Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is www.lagai.org.

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