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Project Home: Amid California Homelessness Crisis, Proposed Tax On Large Corporations Seeks To Fund Programs

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – A proposal introduced in California's legislature seeks to address California's worsening homelessness crisis by create a permanent funding stream for homeless programs.

Democrats, big city mayors and housing advocates on Wednesday introduced Assembly Bill 71, which would tax large corporations.

Meanwhile as darkness descends on San Francisco, the homeless can be found hovering over a new found source of heat.

Homeless San Francisco Steam
A homeless man huddles for warmth next to a steam vent near San Francisco City Hall. (CBS)

"It keeps you warm and if it's damp or wet, it dries your clothes," 70-year-old Orlee Peters said after just waking up on the sewer grate.

The heat from the city's old boiler system creates plumes of steam billowing over City Hall. Peters said he has been sleeping in front of City Hall for three months now and that people keep getting injured from the grates.

"It is dangerous to not know what you're doing with that steam you could get really burned you could wake up with your leg messed up," Peters said.

This is what homelessness has come to in California, the state's seemingly unsolvable crisis.

"It's time we change our approach and give California a fighting chance with the Bring California Home Act," Assemblywoman and sponsor of AB71 Luz Rivas said.

Lawmakers are hoping AB71 is the answer. It's a tax on businesses making more than $5 million a year in profits. Taxes will go up .8% or more, supporters say it will raise $2.4 billion a year and establish a permanent source of funding to end homelessness.

Oakland's Mayor Libby Schaaf calls it, "the most inspirational answer to this crisis I've seen in my entire career in public service."

According to the Corporation of Supportive Housing, corporate tax revenue in California is down 50% over the past 30 years. Authors of this bill say it intentionally targets the corporate tax breaks put in place by the Trump administration in 2017.

"Even if you say it's just going to be on some big business tycoon in a pinstripe suit, the reality is it will impact prices for consumers in California and it will impact jobs," David Kline, a spokesperson for The California Taxpayers Association said.

CalTax is organizing a coalition to oppose the bill, in a letter to the governor they say a pandemic-induced recession is not the right time to raise taxes.

"Businesses and the general public have seen a lot of money spent on issues meant to solve homelessness and its gotten worse not better," Kline said.

Rather than wait for solutions the unhoused often create their own, Peters showed us how he's using heat from the grates to turn a construction cone into a pressure cooker. Tonight the sewer grate will serve as his sleeping site.

"We need to get off our selfish attitudes, nobody is better than anybody else, God made us all the same," Peters said.

If AB71 does pass, the legislation will impact any corporation doing business in California, not just the ones headquartered here.

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