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San Francisco homeless advocates see hope in Biden administration plan to reduce homelessness

San Francisco homeless advocates see hope in Biden administration plan to reduce homelessness
San Francisco homeless advocates see hope in Biden administration plan to reduce homelessness 03:34

SAN FRANCISCO -- It is one of the most pressing crises facing this country. Homelessness is plaguing cities and towns across the U.S. But now, the Biden administration has announced an ambitious goal to cut homelessness by 25% in the next two years. 

 The so-called "All In" plan spells out what needs to be done, but would it work in San Francisco?

The city's Tenderloin District is a place that many fear and point to as an example of what's wrong with San Francisco. But Jennifer Friedenbach has worked there for 27 years and sees it very differently.

"Oh, I've never been scared of the Tenderloin because everybody looks out for each other," she said. "Everybody knows each other. This is a really caring community."

Friedenbach is Executive Director of the city's Coalition on Homelessness and says if the federal government is looking for solutions to homelessness, they should start by looking in the mirror.

"This is our second episode of homelessness since the early 1980s and it was caused by massive cuts to housing at the federal level," she said. "And so, in order to end homelessness, you need to restore that funding and make sure that folks who can't afford the rent get subsidies."

Those subsidies would come in the form of Section 8" vouchers that unhoused people could use to cover the difference in the cost of rent, making it possible to compete for a place to live. It's a suggestion most homeless advocates agree with, including Ray Bramson with Destination: Home, a housing non-profit in Santa Clara County.

"These are rental subsidies we can get in the hands of people and provide them with a place that they can afford to call home for a long period of time. I think we haven't seen a deep investment in housing vouchers in this country for some time," said Bramson. "If we had a deep investment in that resource there's a chance we could get thousands and thousands of people off our streets locally."

But just as important as getting people off the streets, is making sure they never end up there in the first place. Biden's "All In" proposal emphasizes prevention as one of the key pillars to finding solutions. Kevin Zwick, the CEO of United Way Bay Area says it makes practical sense to help people BEFORE they end up in a crisis.

"So, this focus of putting equal attention to prevention, to getting upstream, is a great solution," said Zwick. "Because it's a faster solution, it's more cost-effective, and we have great non-profits on the ground, working with counties and cities, that know how to do this."

Friedenbach runs one of those non-profits and is keeping a positive attitude that the government is serious this time.

"I am a sucker for having my heart broken," she said, "so I'll have my hopes up that they'll actually invest."

It's said that "hope is not a strategy." But feeling hopeless may be what's keeping us where we are now.

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