Mayor Gavin Newsom pledged to slash the homeless population in half on city streets by the end of the year.
Newsom, who was elected to his first term in 2003 on a pledge to end chronic homelessness, made the bold proposal during the yearly State of The City address Wednesday evening at the Asian Art Museum.
During his speech, which ranged from jobs and the economy to education, the 42-year-old mayor promised a 50 percent reduction in street homelessness and 30 percent reduction in overall homelessness by the end of 2010.
The last homeless count, held by The City in January 2009, counted 2,709 homeless people on the streets. However, homeless advocates have long disputed the Newsom administration’s numbers, claiming thousands of more are living undetected on the streets.
The second half of his goal is to reduce the overall homeless population of The City by 30 percent. The homeless count from last year tallied 6,514 total homeless, which includes those in shelters and in other locations such as hospitals. To meet the goal set by the mayor, The City would need to reduce the overall homeless population by 1,954 and the street population to 1,354.
Despite a steady increase in the homeless population since 2005, Newsom confidently vowed that he would “not leave office until we reduce the street population by half and reduce overall population by at least a third.”
He announced plans for a daily version of Project Homeless Connect, a program of one-day events offering the homeless a “one-stop” opportunity to connect with help and services.
Homeless Connect has taken place more than 20 times during the last five years. Newsom said the daily version of the program, called Permanent Connect, will provide “round-the-clock” drop-in service that includes all the assistance of Homeless Connect.
“Obviously, we want to provide more services for our homeless population,” said Supervisor David Campos, who is often at odds with the mayor’s policies. “The devil’s in the details. It’s really hard to talk about the budget because no detail was really provided tonight.”
Wednesday’s address, titled “Investing in San Francisco to Create a 21st Century City,” was heavily focused on job creation and continuing San Francisco’s transformation of the southeast sector into a center for clean tech, biotech, new media and information technology companies.
Newsom did not spend much time addressing The City’s most imminent problem — the $522 million budget deficit projected for next fiscal year. Instead, he said “painful choices again are ahead,” including more cuts to city services and plans to increase revenues.
The mayor said he will discuss the budget in more detail in February, when the outlook is clearer. He announced Wednesday he would hold several town hall meetings next month to address budget issues.
He also vowed to oppose any proposal at the Board of Supervisors to spend money The City doesn’t have or attempts to “recklessly grab power from the executive branch.”
With an unemployment rate hovering at around 10 percent, Mayor Gavin Newsom vowed to create “green-collar jobs” and to lure new businesses to San Francisco with a sustainable work force during his State of The City address.
In a city where businesses have fled due to high taxes and bureaucratic licensing nightmares, Newsom said he needed the support of the Board of Supervisors to pass a trifecta of legislation supporting tax credits. The first includes no taxes for new hires for two years. The second would offer tax credits for small businesses providing health care for their employees. The third is a four-year extension of a payroll tax exclusion for biotech companies.
They are “three pieces of legislation that I haven’t been able to pass,” said Newsom, who urged supervisors who often vote against tax breaks for businesses to revisit them.
Newsom’s job-creation and tax-break proposals drew praise from Jim Lazarus, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s public policy chief.
“We’ve got to get people to work. That’s where The City gets its tax revenues,” Lazarus said. “The mayor really recognized that the role of government is to work with employers large and small and get people to work in San Francisco.”
Every few years, The City counts the number of homeless people. Homeless advocates dispute these numbers.
25.3% Homeless for less than one year
30.8% Homeless between one and three years
34.9% Homeless for more than three years
62.2% Chronically homeless
81.8% Sought city services for free meals
48.6% Sought city services for shelter day services/drop-in center
47.4% Sought city services through Project Homeless Connect
28.9% Sought city services for health services
Source: San Francisco Homeless Count
“There’s a limit to how much more we can tax and cut.”
“We not only need to attract businesses, we need to retain businesses.”
“We’ve got to own up to this, we’ve got to acknowledge this.”
“We’ll reward new businesses and small businesses that provide health care to workers and hire new employees.”
“My focus and the focus of this budget must be reform.”
“This is our No. 1 education priority in the new year.”