San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness allegation of human rights abuse in San Francisco homeless system portrayed in dance during City Hall rally Wednesday
Photos by John Han
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
By Pat Murphy
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
An election year charge equating San Francisco homeless shelter service to human rights abuse worsens suffering of the homeless by frightening them away from shelter, Trent Rhorer who oversees City shelters chided Wednesday.
Rhorer aimed his remarks at a report compiled by the Coalition on Homelessness which concluded abuse and cruelty exist in shelters and rise to human rights abuse.
“This report takes the account of a few people, an unscientific survey, to draw conclusions that there are human rights abuses in our shelters basically equating them to Guantanamo which is absolutely silly,” Rhorer told the Sentinel prior to a small City Hall steps rally by the Coalition.
“I question their motivation — why would the Coalition be spreading this anecdotal hyperbole about the disgraces in the shelter system at the same time we’re trying to get people indoors to use the shelter system — politics election year,” continued Rhorer, Director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency.
“People on the street see this and they don’t want to go in because they think they are such horrible places when in fact the places have improved considerably and they are places that can transition people into housing.”
The report, entitled “Shelter Shock Abuse and Cruelty – Documenting and Exposing Human Rights Absues in SF Shelters,” surveyed 215 shelter clients over a three month period, the Coalition reported.
One quarter of those surveyed indicated shelter staff were rude and slightly more than one quarter complained of insufficient toiletry supplies. More than half encountered violence in shelters, they said.
One member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors attended the Coalition event.
District 9 Supervisor Tom Ammiano told the gathering of his “shock” in learning shelter conditions are “barbaric.”
Supervisor Tom Ammiano
“As Chair of the Rules Committee, myself and my colleagues have been shocked and appalled by the report,” Ammiano stated.
“The conditions that they have found in the shelters are barbaric.
“From no toilet paper to no soap to no standard of care.
“Every shelter has a different policy. Every shelter has a different way of dealing with problems so that people who need that shelter are treated to double whammy.
“It’s bad enough to be homeless and not have services, but then when shelter is offered to have some of those conditions worse — worse — than those on the streets.”
“And then we wonder why our homeless population is not being significatly reduced.
“We wonder why the mayor’s policy of ‘Care Not Cash’ is really not being effective — it’s because the intent and the purpose is not there.
“It’s all about words but it’s not about action, so we have introduced, my office has introduced, a piece of legislation to establish a standard of care for all shelters so that people who are housed in those shelters will receive the dignity that they deserve, will receive the toilet paper that they deserve,” Ammiano pledged.
Yet despite his charge of barbarity, Ammiano does not want a combative environment with Mayor Newsom regarding standard of care development, Ammiano later sought out the Sentinel to comment.
“The intention of my office is to be collaborative with the mayor regarding the shelter conditions,” Ammiano said.
“We have had one meeting where we’ve agreed to work on a standard of care so that the conditions of the shelter are not capricious, and so that we can expect humane and sanitary conditions for the inhabitants.”
Rhorer responded he favors establishing a standard of care into law and rejected allegation homelessness has not been reduced in San Francisco.
Trent Rhorer, Director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency which oversees local shelters, speaks with reporters during rally
“We don’t have any problem adopting minimum standards of in our system,” noted Rhorer.
“The concern would be adoption of minimum standards without the funding to go with providing improvements that the legislation may call for.
“We already have minimum standards in all of our contracts with our shelter providers so codifying the minimum standards we already have into law is something we’d be proud of.”
Homeless counts have dropped significantly from 8,640 homeless persons in 2002, to 6,248 in 2005 and 6,337 in 2007, Rhorer noted.
Mayor Newsom reported City efforts to coordinate housing services have resulted in 5,460 homeless person now housed, Newsom last night told a San Francisco Commonwealth Club audience.
Rhorer maintained the Coalition report conflates imperfection.
“I’m sure there are nights when we don’t have toilet paper installed or it needs to be replaced or we have to add soap,” Rhorer acknowledged.
“Sure there are interactions among clients in a highly populated dense area that need to be dealt with, but overall when you look the system and you have an over 80% satisfaction rate we’re confident the system is meeting the needs of of homeless people.
“We’ve added security guards to almost all of our City shelters this year, we’ve added panic buttons, we’ve augmented our training around people who come in with disabilities, our transgender guests.
“We’ve pumped over $1.1 million in our capital improvements to our system over the last year, bathrooms and living conditions, adding new beds.
“Over 80% of our clients in our shelter system rate their stay as either good or excellent and that they we would refer their friends who are on the streets into our shelters.
“I think when (Coalition members) interview individuals you are always going to get certain anecdotes from people who are experiencing or using the shelter system are having problems, but to draw conclusions across the system from anecdotes I think is flawed.”
Coalition posturing hurts the people it claims to help, concluded Rhorer.
“We take this business of providing shelter to the homeless very, very seriously,” Rhorer stressed
“When we see reports that contain the hyperbole that this one does it is not only discouraging for staff and providers — but it dissaudes homeless people from coming in which is the real tragedy of something like this.”
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
In his youth, Pat Murphy worked as a General Assignment reporter for the Richmond Independent, the Berkeley Daily Gazette, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He served as Managing Editor of the St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger at age 21. Murphy also launched ValPak couponing in San Francisco, as the company’s first San Francisco franchise owner. He walked the bricks, developing ad strategy for a broad range of restaurants and merchants. Pat knows what works and what doesn’t work. His writing skill has been employed by marketing agencies, including Don Solem & Associates. He has covered San Francisco governance for the past ten years. Pat scribes an offbeat view of the human family through Believe It or What.
For the last year, John Han served Sentinel readership as a freelance photographer. He has that natural eye for photography which cannot be developed or learned. He has earned a following of clients, including the World Affairs Council of Northern California. John joined the Sentinel fulltime in April, 2007.