Proposition C is on just about every mind in San Francisco. You’ve probably heard at least a little bit about it, but if not, here are the basics: Prop C is a tax on the city’s biggest businesses to house the homeless. It will create 4,000 new housing units, provide 7,000 subsidies to keep people from being evicted in the first place, and create 1,000 shelter beds to eliminate the 1,000 people currently on the waitlist.
Christin Evans, a San Francisco resident and local Haight Street business owner, was an early supporter and huge proponent of Prop C (Editor’s note: Christin Evan’s tireless advocacy is one of the reasons Marc Benioff, owner of Salesforce, is now vocally supportive of Prop C). She’s quite busy with being a long-time housing advocate, serving on the board of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council and Haight Ashbury Merchants Association, and owning several local, independent businesses. But she’s also my boss at the Booksmith so I was fortunate enough to pick her brain about Prop C, the homeless crisis in general, and her take on housing activism.
Even before Prop C was a common topic, Christin was going out of her way to care for those at risk around her. When I first started working at the Booksmith, I didn’t have an address: Christin allowed me to receive my mail at work, provided me health insurance without cutting from my paycheck, and helped me with other basic, human needs I was extremely worried about.
Tell me a little bit about your history with homeless activism and how that intersects with being a merchant on Haight Street, the owner of a small business, and a resident of San Francisco?
When my husband and I took over Booksmith, which is a 40 plus year-old bookstore, one of the top issues that was important to our community was the visible homeless that we saw on Haight Street. That came up again and again in community meetings. I remember there was a proposal to relocate the Homeless Youth Alliance and there were hundreds of people who came out and were arguing both sides. It became clear that there was a lot of misunderstanding about the underlying causes of homelessness and how best to [address it].
Because we were an independent bookstore and already had an events program, we decided to create a series of community forums to educate ourselves more deeply about these topics. We did this through inviting outreach workers, housing providers, and people who were interacting with people on the street on a daily basis. What we learned was there was a real resource challenge.
So, overall, my activism comes from learning about lack of resources and being impressed by the professionalism by those engaged in this community action work. It helped me recognize that if they had more resources they could house so many more people. A wonderful example of an innovative program is Taking it To The Streets. This was a housing-first based program that offered homeless youth housing in exchange for graffiti clean up and trash pick up services and was one of the first truly housing-first models for Haight-Ashbury youth. It caused a positive cultural shift in the homeless youth in the area because it taught community building and working together to find solutions. [But] the constraint was funding. What Prop C does is create a source of funds that is dedicated and set aside for housing homeless folks.
That kind of leads into my next question, but what is it specifically about Prop C that stood out to you and made you such an early and vocal proponent?
The Coalition of Homelessness wanted to have a business-centric voice. This is an issue that impacts all of the city and we wanted participation not only from homeless activists and housing providers, but also from business owners and neighbors to provide a broader perspective and greater level of engagement. This includes making presentations and statements to other business people and explaining the tax, and how it would impact their businesses. Businesses especially recognize that they just got a large corporate tax cut from Trump and that this is just a tiny fraction of the tax that comes back to the city for critical housing services the federal government used to provide. Overall, that this is a fair tax.
It’s been great to go out and talk to people who might oppose it simply because they oppose taxation. Because usually once they see the actual cost-benefit balance, they are in favor of paying the tax because it will make the streets more livable for everyone.
Many of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood merchants have been around for years, have been through many mayoral elections, where homelessness was the top issue and have seen everything else tried. Policing, sit enforcements, tent sweepings. But these are just band-aid measures. The merchants were natural advocates for housing because we’ve seen it all.
Speaking of merchants, what is your response to the Chamber of Commerce and their opposition to the bill?
Here’s the thing about the Chamber of Commerce, when they came out with their initial opposition they said it was the ‘right priority but wrong approach.’ So I asked Jim Lazarus (from the Chamber of Commerce) what is the right approach? He basically had a measure drafted that was essentially what we’re doing, just more phased in. So they’re opposing something they agree with. They’re opposing it because they’re the Chamber and they’ve never met a tax they liked.
From a business perspective, they stand to benefit as well. For a small tax, you’re “cleaning up” the street which will ultimately bring in more business. Even if you didn’t want to look at it from a humanitarian standpoint, which I’m sure many businesses aren’t, when it comes to tourism and income, this will ultimately bring in more money. Also, it helps the community in a moral and ethical way.
It’s a smart investment. There’s been a lot of recent reporting that conventions are pulling out of the city, that tourists don’t want to come, that people who have recently moved here are unhappy, all because of the visible homeless issue. They don’t understand why such a wealthy city has such a large homeless population. The business advocates will also argue that we need to deregulate housing construction. But the reality is that San Francisco is building a ton of new housing but all at the luxury, above-market level. What we need now is affordable housing. When even young tech workers are living stacked on top of each other, it shows that this issue impacts us all.
So, for people who want to get more involved, what would you recommend?
We have campaign mobilizations every weekend. This involves lit drops and community outreach education. So we go out into the neighborhoods and provide information to voters about Prop C. People can volunteer by just showing up. We have food, great speakers, and it’s a great way to meet other civically engaged folks.
How has working with Prop C and homeless activism impacted you on a personal level?
I've been encouraged through this campaign to meet people that are at risk of being displaced and/or not being offered the appropriate services. Basically, all San Franciscan knows at least one or two people that would benefit from Prop C because we see the vulnerable. We want them to have a safe, clean, and secure place to sleep.
Since starting this article, I’ve seen so much community support for Prop C. But with all the forward motion, I’ve also witnessed misunderstandings caused by a disingenuous campaign by the Chamber of Commerce. Locals have seen our pro-Prop C signs in the store windows and come in just to start debates while I work at the register, claiming that they don’t want the community taxed millions for the sake of the homeless. I was confused, because in no way will millions be coming out of the pockets of our community members. Then I saw an anti-Prop C sign paid for by the Chamber of Commerce with deceptive visuals that seems to imply otherwise. It’s important for everyone to fully educate themselves on this Proposition before voting, as it helps us all.
Seth Charlie Katz is a San Francisco based artist, writer, zinester, and intersectional activist. You can see more of his work at www.sethkatz.art