Rudy Ropes in Willie
Sure, Mayor Willie Brown was deeply interested in NYC's approach to the homeless, and that's why he chose the first week in December, prime holiday season, to journey there to observe the derring-do of Rudy Giuliani. That city's GOP mayor is on the cutting edge, though who's getting cut is the question. For example:
* City officials ordered homeless families to double up with strangers in city-run residential facilities, even when some rooms were going vacant;
* Starting at the end of the summer, more than 1,000 homeless families were turned away from shelters after administrators determined that they had relatives in the city with whom they could stay -- except no one checked to see whether the relatives were willing or able to provide housing;
* In mid-September, Giuliani personally presided over a massive, multiagency demolition of a homeless encampment near Coney Island, a dozen or more sites occupied by 50 or 60 people; once the eviction was completed, a grand total of six ended up in some kind of support program, with the rest scattered to the winds;
* The city has been fined upward of $5 million for an ongoing situation where as many as 600 women and children have been forced to spend their nights in the offices of an intake center, which, even when it was a legal shelter, only had a rated capacity of just under 200.
So that's why Willie went to NYC as opposed to, oh, Seattle.
Our northwest neighbor would not only have been easier to get to. It would have been more enlightening -- and enlightened. Under the leadership of Norman Rice (Seattle's first black mayor), the predominantly white city has won national fame for its homeless policies. Poverty workers, budget analysts, and President Bill Clinton (who is reportedly considering Rice to replace Henry Cisneros as head of Housing and Urban Development) have commended Seattle's approaches for their firmness, humaneness, fiscal prudence, and effectiveness.
None of which seems to have impressed Brown, whose trip decision was more likely based on Seattle's lack of a good custom men's tailor.
Nonprofit agencies are reporting a massive increase in citizenship class enrollment, as many of S.F.'s 15,000 to 20,000 immigrant seniors scramble to become citizens before federal welfare reform laws take effect next August. Among its provisions, the bill will end Supplemental Security Income (SSI) -- currently about $650 a month -- and other federal assistance for legal immigrants. SSI program managers will begin reviewing each recipient's "eligibility" as early as February.
North of Market Senior Services in the Tenderloin reports a fourfold increase in attendance at its twice-weekly citizenship sessions. Janet Griffiths, who runs the classes, says seniors are especially anxious because citizenship applications generally take at least six months to process. "We just ran out of space," says Griffiths. "We got to a point where we couldn't fit any more bodies in here."
David Ishida, executive director of the city's Commission on the Aging, says S.F. is currently seeking outside money to help pay the costs of welfare reform. This week, S.F. will apply for $2 million to $8 million from the Emma Lazarus fund -- the $50 billion project that billionaire George Soros established in October to offset the adverse effects of welfare reform by helping legal immigrants become citizens. Ishida says the money will cover the costs of naturalizing 10,000 legal permanent residents -- half of whom will be affected by the new welfare rules.