Sat September 19th
Last week, I co-authored an opinion piece with a personal hero — Martha Ryan (Executive Director of the Homeless Prenatal Program) in the San Francisco Chronicle. Our piece was in response to the Chronicle’s No position on Proposition S — a local measure put on the ballot by a broad-based coalition of people and organizations who believe that our City is at risk of losing its heart and its soul.
In yesterday’s Chronicle, Heather Knight’s City Insider column ran a deeply troubling story about the growing population of homeless families in San Francisco. Knight says “There are 1,303 homeless families in San Francisco’s public schools with a total of 2,097 children, more than double the total nine years ago. Fifteen families, including 20 children, live in tents or cars on the city’s streets.”
How can this be? How can it be that we have neglected to create strong policy in order to assure that all of our children are safe, have homes, and have what they need to make their way in the world?
There have also been countless headlines and news stories about the epic displacement of artists and arts organizations who have dedicated resources to ensuring that our children have arts education, our neighborhoods have rich and diverse cultural offerings, our city thrives on inspiration.
Proposition S is a response to this kind of failing. It is a citizen-driven effort to effect better policy to ensure cultural equity, provide support and housing for children and families, and insist on quality of life for all.
The Chronicle — despite its strong advocacy for arts and its recent bold coverage of homelessness in San Francisco (including the above-mentioned story) — got stuck on two things that are important to interrogate for this election but also well beyond it. The first is the concern about what are often called “set asides” or public funds that are dedicated to support specific communities or to address particular needs.
While I might agree that in a perfect world — an equitable and just world where everyone’s basic needs are met — we might be in a position to pool a city’s resources and trust budget leaders and policymakers to allocate strategically and with care. In that world, we might not have to dedicate funds to address the needs of communities that we have previously abandoned or to preserve what we are urgently at risk of losing. But, we are not anywhere near that perfect world as evidenced by the story in yesterday’s paper.
Proposition S addresses critical gaps and consists of carefully crafted calculations that slowly ramp up over 4 years to restore San Francisco’s Hotel Tax to its intention by addressing the City’s lack of attention to artists, arts organizations, and homeless children and families. This careful ramp up ensures minimum long-term impact on other existing “set asides” that also address important needs. As the Hotel Tax grows, which it will, the pool expands for all. This is thoughtful, collaborative legislation.
The second concern raised by the Chronicle Editorial Board is much more alarming to me. In short, they characterized the relationship between advocates for the arts and advocates for homeless children and families as “a marriage of convenience” instead of seeing it as the strong, synergistic and future-making collaboration that it is.
We have seen historic efforts in places like Minnesota, Detroit and elsewhere — where arts communities and other sectors successfully worked to assert common ground rooted in basic quality of life in order to assure better policy. Rather than cynical political relationships, the Prop S Coalition came together across sector because the challenges we face in society will not be solved if we continue to operate in silos, if we refuse to share resources, and — most importantly — if we refuse to draw a vision that is broad, inclusive, and connected.
The arts don’t exist in a vacuum. The arts won’t exist if we don’t open our resources up to broader community concerns. And, we won’t exist if we aren’t serving our children and our families and especially our most vulnerable children and families.
And, none of us can step forward in life if we are not afforded by circumstances the space for creativity, for imagination, for inspiration. To be inspired is to imagine a future for oneself and for those around us that is better than what we are experiencing today.
This is the perfect marriage, this is the perfect vision for a future of collaboration across sectors, a sharing of resources, a push for better policy not for special interests but for all.
Voting is an expression of our citizenship as is working together to build broad-based coalitions that can lead to real change. If you are registered to vote in San Francisco, Please vote Yes on S. And, no matter where you live and vote, thank you for rooting for this historic coalition.