SF supes OK 2 LGBTQs for homelessness panel

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 22, 2023
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Former San Francisco supervisor and current BART board member Bevan Dufty, left, and Joaquin Whitt Guerrero, who had been director of housing for Our Trans Home SF, were approved for seats on the city's new homelessness commission by the Board of Supervisors. Photo: Screengrab via SFGov.TV
Former San Francisco supervisor and current BART board member Bevan Dufty, left, and Joaquin Whitt Guerrero, who had been director of housing for Our Trans Home SF, were approved for seats on the city's new homelessness commission by the Board of Supervisors. Photo: Screengrab via SFGov.TV

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved six people for the brand new Homelessness Oversight Commission at its meeting Tuesday, including two LGBTQs who were recommended by the body's rules committee last week.

They are Bevan Dufty, a gay man who is currently an elected member of the BART Board of Directors and was formerly a District 8 supervisor, and Joaquin Whitt Guerrero, a Two-Spirit trans man who was the inaugural director of housing for Our Trans Home SF, and who now does landlord-tenant mediation work for the San Francisco Bar Association.

The oversight panel for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Services was approved by voters last November as Proposition C. Four are appointed by the mayor with the consent of the supervisors, and three by the supervisors.

The supervisors' picks were recommended by the rules committee at its March 13 meeting, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. The third appointment is Christin Evans, who was an advocate for Prop C and is the co-owner of Booksmith Bookstore and The Alembic Restaurant and bar in the Haight, where she lives with her husband.

At Tuesday's meeting, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí — a member of the rules committee that selected the trio of Dufty, Guerrero, Evans — spoke highly of them.

"We had a lot of great people apply," said Safaí, who represents the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhoods. "I don't agree with every one of these people on every issue, but that's not the point. Commissions should reflect the diversity of our city and these nominees will."

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen declared their support, too. But gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman moved to separate Evans' nomination, which would have allowed the board to approve Dufty and Guerrero but reject Evans.

A vote to do so failed 7-4. Mandelman was joined in his quest by gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey — chair of the rules committee — as well as gay District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio and District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a straight ally.

After that, the supervisors unanimously approved the three.

Mandelman, Engardio, and Stefani did not respond to requests for comment for this report as of press time as to why they voted to sever the vote for Evans.

But Dorsey did, telling the B.A.R. late Tuesday that "I was extremely impressed with Tracey Mixon and I think we missed an opportunity to have an outstanding commissioner with a uniquely well informed perspective on homelessness, personally and professionally. If there was a path for getting Tracey on our homelessness oversight commission, I wanted to support it. The votes weren't there, obviously, and I respect that."

Dorsey had supported Mixon, a peer organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, during the rules committee hearing, but Safaí and straight ally vice chair District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton went with Evans.

In a statement to the B.A.R. after the vote, Evans wrote, "I'm looking forward to serving on the homeless oversight commission. As I understand we will formally begin our work in May. My priority will be to ensure that there is a sense of urgency, in everyone involved, to house our homeless neighbors."

Dufty told the B.A.R. after the vote that "there's some very basic things that need attention."

"If we don't do a good job with the programs that serve individuals, neighborhoods are not going to welcome us," he said. "We need a tool box to make sure programs that serve our population are welcoming and safe and productive. We want people to live productive lives."

He said he's also going to reach out to providers of services to families and youth.

"There's a youth Navigation Center and, as a person who started the first Navigation Center, I'm excited to go meet with some of the young people," he said. "I always draw energy from young people so I'm looking forward to that soon. I probably had a million interns: Mayor London Breed was my intern so that's probably where I get it from."

Dufty once served as the late mayor Ed Lee's homeless czar, running the Housing, Opportunity, Partnerships, and Engagement program.

Dufty noted that it was fortuitous that the vote was held after the board's hourslong committee of the whole discussion about Mandelman's "A Place For All" proposal. The board had passed "A Place for All" last June, which makes it city policy that San Francisco offer all homeless individuals a place to sleep. In December, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing produced a report calling for an additional $1.45 billion in spending aimed at the creation of permanent supportive housing. That was discussed Tuesday, and Mandelman said that he hoped the hearing would serve as a re-set.

"We don't have an extra $1.45 billion, but we can probably find enough in the budget for 2,000 more shelter beds," Jackie Thornhill, a trans woman who is a legislative aide to Mandelman, told the B.A.R. Wednesday. "Mandelman is calling on the mayor and the board to fund rapid expansion of shelter beds in the coming budget, and he is open to amending the homelessness gross receipts tax ordinance to remove the arbitrary cap on revenue that can be spent on shelter to do so. He is also open to finding the money in the general fund."

Dufty said that the meeting was "fascinating."

"Supervisors were talking in great detail about what they hoped to see and what will get the city on the right path. It was fortuitous: four hours, hearing from the public, and this is emblematic of the work this commission gets the opportunity to do," he said. "A word that came up was anger, disappointment, anxiety about homelessness.

"At one point, one of the supervisors talked about not being defeatist, and that really spoke to me because this work can be very difficult and it can be polarizing, but it was a reminder that we can only succeed if we put our intellect and energy and investment into solving it and so I felt honored to be unanimously approved by the board and I feel very excited about being part of the effort to change the trajectory of homelessness in San Francisco," he added.

Guerrero did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The supervisors also approved three of Mayor London Breed's nominations to the homelessness panel. They are Katie Albright, CEO of Safe and Sound; Jonathan Butler, Ph.D., a social epidemiologist and associate director of the Black Health Initiative at UCSF and executive director of the San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition; and Sharky Laguana, the former president of the city's Small Business Commission and nightlife advocate.

The fourth mayoral nomination withdrew before the rules committee had the chance to vote on him last week: Vikrum Aiyer, a straight man, fudged his resume regarding his education and billed U.S. taxpayers for personal expenses that totaled more than $15,000 when he worked in former President Barack Obama's administration, as had widely been reported.

Committee hearing

At the rules committee meeting, Dufty said he understands residents' frustration.

"I have a good sense of what San Franciscans are feeling and I'm hopeful that the commission can get things done and create some shared values around how to respond to homelessness in an effective and caring manner," Dufty said.

Dufty also noted how important it is to have LGBTQ representation on the committee (as the B.A.R. editorialized recently).

"This panel is important to the LGBTQ community because it is likely that just as young people came because they heard of Harvey Milk and the freedom in San Francisco, I think a lot of trans and queer youth may be running away from states seeking to erase them," Dufty said.

Dufty was referring to the recent spate of anti-trans and anti-drag legislation in many states, especially in the South. As the B.A.R. reported last week, Mississippi banned gender-affirming care for trans youth, and Tennessee not only passed a similar law, it also enacted an adult entertainment law that some fear could restrict people's ability to legally dress in drag.

Guerrero could not be reached for comment after that hearing, but he voiced a similar sentiment during his remarks.

"Like many trans leaders in San Francisco, I came here to access trans services and be somewhere I can be myself with safety," Guerrero said. "I'm here because I feel a sense of duty as a transgender person as our community is under attack."

The committee agreed about the need for trans representation since the problem of homelessness disproportionately affects the community. Breed last year released a plan to end trans homelessness by 2027.

"Forty-one percent of transgender people of color experience homelessness in their lifetime," Dorsey said during the proceedings. "Transgender community members face five times the rate of homelessness. One of the things I've seen throughout my career, but especially in the last couple of years, is the disproportionate violence that targets the transgender community, particularly transgender people of color."

The B.A.R. asked Dufty and Dorsey if they feel the supervisors' recommended appointees are representative enough; none of the three are Black, though 37% of the city's homeless population is despite the fact Black people make up 5% of the city's population. (Nominee Mixon, whom Dorsey supported, is Black.)

"We don't really know who's coming into that seat [Aiyer's] and what that may bring to the overall diversity, but I do think everyone in the room was of the mind that we have to do better for the Black community," Dufty said. "I think that there can be challenges when you have a split appointment. I favor it; I think this is important that the board have the individuals they've picked for the commission."

Dorsey told the B.A.R. that there's a lot of different things to balance.

"There's so much representation to reflect, because there's activism, and this is the hard part about a commission like this," Dorsey said.

Dufty said that his goal is to increase the public's confidence in city government, which he characterized as low.

"I don't think San Francisco can be a healthy city and have a Black population that is six times the rate of homelessness of the general population," Dufty said. "That's not how we see ourselves as a city, but I think broadly there's a lack of trust in government's ability to impact homelessness favorably and part of our agenda has to be to demonstrate that we can get things done. I think that's job No. 1 and also recognizing there are other cities that are gaining ground and they may not have some of the challenges we do in terms of housing cost, but there are cities where disproportionality is being reduced."

When asked about alternative approaches, Dufty brought up Pathways to Housing PA in Philadelphia. The group helps people address the problems that lead them on the path to eviction. He was adamant in the meeting that "we've got to stop the evictions."

"I think it [stopping the evictions] looks like providing the financial support necessary to prevent an eviction and then providing support to the tenant to address the issues that put them there," Dufty said. "I've been a big fan of Pathways to Housing PA. ... It's kind of like insurance for landlords, in a way. Pathways is definitely one of the programs I'd have us look at because I think they've been very successful in Philadelphia."

During the committee meeting Evans said, "ultimately we are a rich city in a rich state in a rich country and all San Franciscans deserve a place to rest their head."

Speaking to the B.A.R. last week, Evans said, "Representation is incredibly important. There are only seven seats and it'd be impossible to reflect all aspects of people experiencing homelessness in that regard, and it would've been great to see folks in permanent supportive housing on the board.

"We also lack representation for seniors experiencing homelessness, veterans experiencing homelessness, and ultimately I think the job of the homeless oversight commission is to ensure all voices are lifted up and that's the very exciting thing about the forum: to bring folks a platform about what the system is and isn't doing for them," she added.

Updated, 3/27/23: This article has been corrected. Joaquin Whitt Guerrero was the director of housing for Our Trans Home SF. Guerrero reached out to the B.A.R. after publication to clarify that since January he's been a mediator for landlord and tenant disputes with the San Francisco Bar Association.

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