On December 3, we were honored to welcome the Honorable Edwin Lee, Mayor of San Francisco, to St. Anthony’s. Mayor Lee wanted to announce a new initiative from his office to deal with the problem of homelessness in the city.
As I told the group gathered when welcoming them, those of us who work daily with people who are homeless know that the greatest burden of their predicament is the isolation and exclusion they experience. So we were thankful that the Mayor was coming to the Tenderloin to make his announcement. Those of us who are committed to addressing this persistent issue also know that we should not see “the homeless” as the problem. Those who are homeless are our brothers and sisters. The problem is our problem as a community—a community with incalculable resources but one that cannot structure our economy, align our resources or redistribute our wealth in ways to benefit all.
The mayor’s proposals for better coordination of services and renewed commitment took on special meaning when listened to while sitting among the two groups gathered: my colleagues in the nonprofit world, who are in the trenches of this work, and the city department heads responsible for implementing plans. In one room we had the passion and the power to make things happen—the very forces that need to be coordinated. This conjunction also invited a proper understanding of the relationship between government and community responsibility: city agencies have the responsibility of providing a safety net of services to address the problem of homeless but this never absolves the community from caring for those who fall through that safety net.
After the press conference a reporter’s question underscored this insight. She asked if the mayor’s announcement would mean more funding for St. Anthony’s. I responded that those of us from an organization like St. Anthony’s, that does not take government funding, welcomed the mayor’s plan not because of the promise of more funding, but because the coordination promised meant a stronger safety net. We recognize the proper role that city government should play in addressing our problem of homelessness, and we are committed to playing our proper role as a faith-based nonprofit called to serve our brothers and sisters in need.
Barry Stenger is the Executive Director of St. Anthony’s