Proposition N - Care not Cash

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2002 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This measure is an attempt to solve a piece of the homeless problem in San Francisco. It deals with the issue of general assistance cash grants--i.e., "welfare checks"--that are given to homeless people. Currently, San Francisco provides vastly larger amounts of money than other counties in the region. Many people believe that this causes two problems: 1) homeless people from other places come to San Francisco; 2) homeless people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol end up spending their welfare checks on their addictions instead of meeting their basic needs. Care Not Cash attempts to remedy this problem by shifting the city's general assistance support for homeless individuals into the form of vouchers for food and shelter instead of cash.

Why it is on the ballot

Although San Francisco is the fourth most populous county in the Bay Area, the number of people receiving General Assistance in San Francisco is 60% higher than the next highest county. The $395 in cash it provides recipients is higher than other Bay Area counties. Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties largely rely on housing vouchers or other in-kind services for their General Assistance programs. Besides San Francisco, Marin County with a caseload of 200, is the only Bay Area county to provide cash assistance of $373 per recipient. The remainder of the Bay Areacounties provide the following cash assistance amounts each month: Contra Costa, $167; Santa Clara, $138;San Mateo, $58; and Alameda, $18.

San Francisco offers the highest maximum CAAP (county adult assistant programs) cash grant in the state. It has the second highest number of General Assistance (GA) recipients, although it is the eleventh most populous county. Only Los Angeles, which has twelve times as many people as San Francisco, has more General Assistance recipients. Many counties utilize in-kind service vouchers; San Francisco does not use vouchers.


Those who support the measure state:

  • Scarce revenues are wasted on addictions, rather than providing services that would meet people's basic needs as well as helping them to overcome their addictions and make progress towards self sufficiency.
  • Bringing San Francisco in line with every other major California county should reduce the incentive for homeless individuals who want cash rather than services to congregate here.
  • There will be an increase in supportive homeless service programs resulting from a redirection of General Assistance payments.


Those who oppose the measure state:

  • The so-called "guaranteed homeless services" for single adult homeless recipients is illusionary.
  • Without the current level of General Assistance, individuals will not be able to avail themselves of shared housing arrangements thereby forcing more people onto the streets.

SPUR's analysis

State law requires counties to "relieve and support all incompetent, poor and indigent persons." To meet this requirement San Francisco's General Fund finances four county adult assistance programs (CAAP), medical care at General Hospital and minor in-kind services such as Muni tokens. Two of the CAAP programs provide average monthly cash payments of $343 to about 2,500 homeless adults (30% of the CAAP population), for a total annual cost of $9.5 million.

Adoption of the Care Not Cash initiative ordinance would mean single homeless adults would lose their monthly CAAP cash payments. Instead they would receive in-kind services such as residential hotel rooms, mental and drug treatment and meals plus a monthly personal allowance of $59 as well as retaining medical care at General Hospital and other minor in-kind services.

If the City were unable to provide the in-kind services (this would most likely be a problem with housing) then the City would provide cash grants instead--and in fact the amount of the grants would increase.

SPUR's Homelessness Report (see at found that today's general assistance levels are not sufficient to live on. SRO (single-room occupancy hotels, otherwise known as rooming houses) rooms cost an average of around $650 per month, while GA checks are a maximum of $395. This population uses the shelter system, lives part-time in SRO hotels, and lives on the street. Some also are mentally ill and/or have drug or alcohol problems or both that prevent them from progressing toward self-sufficiency. Cash provided to those recipients who have substance abuse problems perpetuates these conditions by "enabling" them to continue to use drugs and alcohol.

It follows directly from the work of SPUR's Homelessness Task Force, which found that the most important solution to the problem of homelessness is supportive housing: a decent place to live, accompanied by services that will keep people off the street. Care Not Cash makes an incremental, but important, move in that direction by providing homeless people with basic needs instead of money that is all too often spent on drugs.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on the Care Not Cash initiative.