Last week, Congress rushed to solve a problem upsetting the travelling public, the airlines and, not coincidentally, Congress itself. It was an emergency, of course, caused by sequestration cuts to air traffic controllers, threatening significant flight delays including members' flights home to their districts.
Danny, a homeless father with two sons at a shelter in the Tenderloin, has an emergency too. His disability keeps him from earning enough to afford San Francisco's high rents. He needs a voucher from the Housing Authority to find a decent apartment and pay about one-third of his income for rent. But because of sequestration, there are no more vouchers.
In fact, the Housing Authority will have to cut the voucher program, potentially eliminating families who have vouchers or raising the rents they must pay. Homelessness will increase in San Francisco and nationwide because of sequestration.
As the executive director of a nonprofit that assists homeless families, I see how unemployment and sky-high rents affect vulnerable households. We use federal funds to help homeless families get back into permanent housing. But we're going to get cut too and that will mean more families without homes.
Congress doesn't see the emergency. No action is contemplated. The families we serve can't make big campaign donations.
There are almost 300 families with children on the waiting list in San Francisco just to get into shelters. Many have serious medical conditions exacerbated by homelessness. Nonprofit agencies are already overwhelmed before sequestration even hits our federal contracts.
Sequestration was meant to be the catastrophe forcing Congress to do the hard work of addressing budget issues. And it will be catastrophic — at least for homeless and low-income people like Danny, caught between a market that doesn't provide affordable housing and a government that creates emergencies and then ignores them.
With a Perspective, I'm Diane Luther.
Diane Luther is executive director of the Hamilton Family Center in San Francisco.