This Petition Reminds Us That Homeless Folks ‘Are Not Just Park Benches You Push Around’

Stuart Schuffman popularly known as “Broke-Ass Stuart” is a proud San Franciscan.

There are a lot of things he loves about his city: he loves the generosity, the camaraderie, the compassion and sense of community.

But there is one glaring issue that he doesn’t like and that’s the current Mayor’s disregard for the plight of the poor and the homeless in the city.

Despite the city’s immense wealth and thriving economy, San Francisco is experiencing an astronomical surge in homelessness. As rents soar and corporations like Facebook and Google gobble up real estate, many residents are being pushed out of increasingly unaffordable housing. One visible result of this massive disparity is an increase in “tent cities,” or temporary structures set up to house those who have nowhere else to go.

Living in this city, watching this crisis of rampant homelessness unfold, Stuart knew he had to do something to get Mayor Ed Lee’s attention. He needed to remind the mayor that the people of San Francisco need him, and that he must not turn his back on them in their hour of need.

So Stuart took action by creating a Care2 petition, demanding that Mayor Lee declare a state of emergency. This would allow the city to fight for additional funding from both the state and federal governments, and would allow the city to use its own land to build pop-up shelters. Stuart only began his petition a month ago, but he’s already collected almost 30,000 signatures.

This cause has clearly touched the hearts of many people in the Care2 community, so we wanted to learn more about Stuart’s incredible work to help solve San Francisco’s homeless problem. We caught up with him recently to talk more about what fuels his activism, why it’s important for us to care about this cause, and what advice he has for other activists who are just getting started.

Feel free to share your appreciation or questions in the comments!

Why is it important for people to care about homelessness? What inspired you to start your petition?

The reason this topic of homelessness in San Francisco is so important is because we have a crisis of homelessness. It’s an epidemic. We have a city with skyrocketing rents and we just don’t have the social safety net to take care of all the people who need help.

Seventy-one percent of the people who are on the streets had San Francisco addresses before they ended up on the streets, so these are our neighbors and most importantly, these are human beings.

A very small percentage of people actually want to be out there. Most people want help, they want to be inside, but they just have fallen through the cracks. A lot of people think: “Oh, homeless folks are just some crazy people out there screaming to themselves in the streets,” but I’ve seen everything from soccer moms to people who actually have jobs but happen to live in tents because their housing situation was unstable.

People on the streets often come from broken homes, they come from abuse, molestation, or they’re veterans. They are basically the people who are most fragile in our society, and as society, it’s our duty to try to take care of them. So I think as things go, with our generation, it’s going to be one of the biggest things that we confront. We’re seeing homelessness erupt in cities all over the United States, and it’s our duty to do something about it because these are our neighbors.

I started this petition because we need the Mayor of San Francisco to actually stand up and do something about homelessness. He needs to call a state of emergency as Supervisor David Campos has asked him to do, so we can get the resources we need to build more pop-up shelters, called “Navigation Centers,” to get the people off the street and back onto their feet.

What was your reaction when you saw how much attention your petition received?

I’ve been involved in working with homelessness since I was in junior high or high school. I started training for my bar mitzvah when I was 13, and one thing with my synagogue encouraged was spending one Sunday a month at St. Vincent de Paul feeding the homeless. And after I was bar mitzvahed, my family and I just continued to do it. So I did it all throughout junior high and high school.

And as I got older, I got less involved, until recently, when I became more politically active once again. Homelessness is an incredibly pressing issue, and it’s hard to avoid or ignore. So when Mayor Ed Lee announced, in February before the Super Bowl, that all the homeless in downtown San Francisco would have to leave and he didn’t say where they were going to go or how he was going to take care of them my reaction was: “These are not just like park benches you push around, these are human beings.”

So, myself and the Coalition on Homelessness organized a big protest during the Super Bowl. We had a few thousand people come out to Super Bowl City our city, you know, the homeless city, tent city and said: “We have all the cameras of the world here, we’re going to show them that we as San Franciscans, as people, we care about our neighbors. City Hall might not care about our neighbors, City Hall might not care about these people, and are willing to just push them around, but we as San Franciscans, we look out for each other.”

So it’s not a surprise to me that we have 25,000 signatures because San Franciscans, when everything’s said and done, we’re good people, and we care about each other, and we want to see us all rise up. So we’re just waiting for Mayor Ed Lee to join us.

What do you like about being a Care2 member?

What’s great about Care2 is that is actually allows you to do something at least you can get the word out, and reach people who have similar views, who care about things you care about, and you can get them involved. It’s something as simple as signing your name electronically and then sharing on social media that can have a massive impact. Right now, I think our petition has something close to 25,000 signatures, which is really meaningful it’s a lot of people. I plan on taking that to Ed Lee, the Mayor of San Francisco, and saying: “Hey, there are all these people who care, so please do something about this.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make change and have a positive impact in the world?

There’s a Desmond Tutu quote that reads: “If you’re neutral in a situation of injustice, then you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.” And that’s simple enough right there, that just breaks it down. Just being silent means you’re tacitly letting injustice happen. So by starting a petition and by getting other people involved, you’re saying: “Look, I’ve had enough, and I’m using my voice to try and create change in the world.” And that’s sometimes the strongest thing you could ever do.

If you could say one final thing to people considering signing your petition, what would you say?

It’s in all of our best interest to sign this petition. I don’t know about you, but most people I know, we’re only a few paychecks and a few bad decisions from not having a place ourselves. Some of us are lucky to have fallbacks. Some of us can move back home to our parents’ or our grandparents’, or with friends, but not everybody has that luxury or that privilege. So it’s up to us people who do have privilege to stick up for those who don’t.

And if you’re someone who’s worried about the financials, how are we going to financially take care of our homeless neighbors it’s been proven time after time after time that if you get people off the streets and into housing, they will stay off the streets, and it will be less of a burden on taxpayers. We spend more money the city, the state, the individuals, the taxpayers we spend more money on homelessness when people are on the streets, than we spend on getting people off the street, because homelessness increases the rates of things like hospital visits that we all help to pay for. It’s been proven in places like Utah and Virginia that Housing First initiatives, which is when you use public assistance to put someone in a house, cuts the cost of the services immensely and it gets people settled into homes.

So, there you have it you have the heart and the head. Please join, please sign, please care.

If there’s an issue you care about in your community, start your own petition and watch as the Care2 community rallies around your cause!

41 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus11 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Ruhee B.
Ruhee Babout a year ago

Petition signed. Homelessness seems to be an issue in most major cities - more needs be done to address it's causes.

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PlsNoMessage se
PlsNoMessage seabout a year ago

ty

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Judie B.
Judie Babout a year ago

What happened? When I lived in the Bay Area over a decade ago, they were planning to open the empty barracks at the Presidio to help house the homeless.

Here, in Hawaii, we have a similar epidemic. They have started to use old shipping containers to build small domiciles where the homeless can finally have an address to help them get back on their feet, AND they're allowed to bring their pets (something the shelters don't allow, which is why many wouldn't go to the shelters--the pets are their family, too.)

We have a long way to go, but there are a whole host of solutions out there, if only we take the time to demand and implement them. Never let up. "Money" magazine ran an article a couple of decades ago, stating that 80% of the people in this country are one or two paychecks away from being homeless. I'm sure, since the fallout in 2008, that that number has risen dramatically. Help where you can, because the next person needing help may be YOU.

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Donna T.
Donna Tabout a year ago

thank you

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Kate R.
Past Member about a year ago

Many years ago, my better half & I spent 7 months living in a tent, while we were both in full-time employment. Housing was just simply too rare & expensive to be available or affordable for local people here, because tourists, incomers & retirees were pushing the prices up. We managed to find a place to live, but we've had several folks over the years living in our garden in tents or camper vans. No one chooses to be homeless, & most people can sort themselves out if they just get a chance.

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Fati Ali
Fati Aliabout a year ago

Heart warming to hear people of different backgrounds coming together to fix this situation

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New G.
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks.

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Sarah MacDonald
Sarah MacDonaldabout a year ago

@Freya H: Yes, decades ago. Time for that war to end.

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Dave C.
David Cabout a year ago

thanks, petition already signed

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