Supervisors propose increased funding for youth services

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José-Luis Mejia, associate director of Transitional-Age Youth SF, said more funding is needed for marginalized youth.

José-Luis Mejia says he’s seen a little bit of everything in his work with transitional-age youth.

A few have died suddenly; others wound up incarcerated. Then there are those who beat the odds by attending top-level universities, opening up their own businesses, or dedicating themselves to public service.

When a mentor interacts with youth aging out of foster care, Mejia said, “you don’t know what that young person is going through.” He himself had the experience of turning his life around as a young person after growing up in a violent household; he credits publically funded programs for at-risk youth with supporting his transformation.

As associate director of Transitional Age Youth San Francisco, Mejia was part of a grassroots coalition that has been working for about two years on crafting a measure that aims to increase funding for youth programs, seeking to give a boost to transitional-age youth services in particular.

The culmination of that effort was today’s introduction at the Board of Supervisors of a suite of new proposals to support youth programs, including a pair of charter amendments that will appear on the November ballot.

The first, sponsored by Sup. John Avalos with Sups. David Campos, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim, Norman Yee, and London Breed as cosponsors, would renew the existing Children’s Fund, renaming it the Children and Youth Fund, and increasing the property-tax set-aside that supports it from three cents per $100 of assessed valuation to five cents.

Throughout the room at a press conference held in City Hall today with members of the Board and a coalition of youth advocates, attendees sported hats with neon stickers that read: “Our kids are worth two cents.”

As part of this measure, funding would be designated for programs set up to aid “disconnected transitional-aged youth,” including homeless or disabled youth, unmarried parents, those who identify as LGBTQ or are aging out of foster care, and other specified categories. The amendment would also create a Commission on Children, Youth, and Their Families, to oversee the Department of Children Youth and their families.

“At the end of this process, I hope to have the support of eleven members of the board,” Avalos noted. However, members of the Board of Supervisors who are sponsoring the legislation have already received from pushback from Mayor Ed Lee, who has reportedly been pressuring supervisors not to support Avalos' measure. (Lee's press office did not return a call seeking comment.)

“As we all know, San Francisco is experiencing incredible economic activity,” Avalos said at this afternoon’s press conference. “We’re experiencing growth and speculation that is lifting many boats, but not lifting all boats. And some of the people who are not doing so well are children and families – we’ve seen a decline in our population of families with children, over the past few decades, and it’s time that we … put the resources forward that are going to make it possible for San Francsicans and families to find affordability here.”

A second, closely related charter amendment, carried by Sup. Jane Kim with Yee as a cosponsor, would renew the Public Education Enrichment Fund, eliminate its expiration date, and provide for universal access to early childhood education for kids between three and five years instead of starting at age four.

The Public Education Enrichment Fund and the Children’s Fund, created after being placed on the ballot in 1991, currently set aside over $100 million for children and youth in San Francisco. The funding sources would sunset if action were not taken to extend them.