Today was my second Human Services Commission meeting and my first with agenda items I added! For this civic engagement nerd, that was pretty cool to see. Here is a summary of two of the big projects I was working on for the commission for the past month, as well as more on me trying to focus the agenda on the needs of immigrant families, people who are homeless, and survivors of human trafficking. You can read the entire agenda here.
Below is a quick recap of what we covered, with a focus on how what we heard will help us move forward:
Human Trafficking Follow-Up
Here’s a summary of the presentation on SJPD’s anti-trafficking efforts the commission received last month and below is my summary of what we learned this month:
Speaker: Josue Fuentes, District Attorney’s Office of the County of Santa Clara. 4 key points from his presentation:
- Of the 230* women who were arrested only 2 were identified by patrol officers as being survivors of human trafficking.
- The area where SJPD’s Vice team was focusing the sweeps has experienced street-level commercial sex for 20 years.
- The majority of purchasers of sex the DA’s office interacts with are from San José, not visiting the city to purchase sex.
- The Valor program (the diversion program for people in commercial sex) is only open to those who have not previously been convicted of involvement in commercial sex.
*This number may actually be 280 — the minutes from the last meeting had the higher number and our staff liaison is working with SJPD’s Vice team to get a clear understanding of how many women were arrested in the most recent sweeps. There was no disagreement that a total of 4-5 total men were arrested during the same period.
Speaker: Sharan Dhanoa, South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. 6 key points from her presentation:
- The Urban Institute produced a report that shows that criminalizing commercial sex keeps people who might otherwise seek other employment from leaving, whether they are survivors of trafficking or engaging in sex work voluntarily.
- The Coalition has following a model from Oakland that allows community-members to report purchasers of street-level commercial sex by reporting their driver’s license number. Then a letter is sent to the home associated with that driver’s license. Anyone in San José can go to reportjohn.org to use the free tool, available in Español (Spanish), Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese), 官话 Guānhuà (Chinese), Wikang Tagalog (Tagalog), and English.
- There is a real need for transitional housing for all survivors and any form of housing at all for male adult survivors of trafficking — a local nonprofit blew-through $30,000, an entire grant, paying for housing for a large group of male survivors of labor trafficking.
- The Coalition developed a family toolkit to help families whose children have questions about street-level commercial sex in their neighborhood. I’ll add a link once I can find it.
- What few buyers of commercial sex go to the DA’s office are only charged with a misdemeanor and they can have that removed from their record by going to a one-day “buyer’s school”; the “valor school” that Mr Fuentes mentioned for people selling commercial sex (who may be sex workers or un-recognized survivors of sex trafficking) takes 10 weeks.
- Kudos to San José Police Department for funding the Coalition with no strings attached.
Action: I’ve been asking around and have not been able to find a good model for cities to following on what an excellent response to ending trafficking looks like at the municipal level: what laws that need to be on the books and rigorously enforced; what policies and protocols law enforcement, DAs, judges, and service providers need to follow; what funding streams need to be dug-out and protected to ensure survivors get the support they need; what kinds of outreach and awareness campaigns really work. I’m going to ask that generating this Model City Approach to Ending Human Trafficking be added to the workplan for our commission when we decide our foci in a few months. I’m going to start a draft between now and then.
Presentation from Anthony King on Protecting the Property Rights of People Who a Homeless and Improving Their Services
Anthony King was over at my house last month for an advocates brunch I hosted to get to know more people working in the affordable housing/serving people who are homeless spaces. He’s a community organizer with De-Bug Silicon Valley and experienced homelessness over 15 years in San José and other cities across the US. He’s also a Whovian and appreciated my TARDIS wall in my living room. I invited him to attend the commission because of what he said at that brunch when I asked what was the most useful thing the commission could do for people who are homeless .
He told a story about what happens to a person who’s homeless’s backpack and tent after a sweep. First, the Homeless Response Team decides to conduct a sweep in an area, perhaps based on a constituent’s complaint to their city council member. Then, city workers and staff from Tucker Construction go to that location, with SJPD protecting them, and gather-up people who are homeless’s belongings. A particular service provider working with people who are homeless collects those belongings and provides a number where their owners can come and collect them. Mr King said that when he calls that number to a community-member get their stuff back, it is rarely answered. He knows of only 3 people who have gotten anything back — not all of their stuff, but anything at all. He said some people don’t even try to get their belongings back anymore.
He contrasted that with how the SJPD handles the belongings of people who are arrested. If someone is arrested with a bicycle or a tennis racket, it goes to a warehouse on Monterey Rd where it is stored until between 10 months and 3 years after the person is released from incarceration. That warehouse is open at some odd hours because of staffing, but their location and hours are known, public, and consistent. People can use an ID to pick-up their belongings or the officer can look-up the date they were arrested and match the person with their stuff. Mr King thought this was a much better process.
Below are what he recommended to me in January and to the commission tonight:
- The commission should recommend to city council that the city auditor review the contractors who provide services for people who are homeless and evaluate their ability to provide those services using input from the consumers of those services.
- The commission should recommend to city council that they should create an advisory board made-up of consumers of city services, including people who are homeless.
- The commission should recommend to city council that SJPD take-over handling, storing, and returning the belongings of people who are homeless after sweeps.
Action: There are some kinks to be worked-out in what an advisory board would look like (maybe a 5-year review board rather than a standing commission? Other thoughts?), but his suggestions seemed sensible, informed, and practical. I’m a fan, and not just because we share a fandom.
More context on this from last time: basically, the city needs to make sure that the Census Bureau can get the census into the hands of every person living in San José. They need about 600 volunteers on 3/10 and 3/24.
Action: I’ll be connecting with some of the kick-butt local organizations my friends are in to see if they can encourage their members to help volunteer and make sure everyone counts, per Article I, Section 2.3 of the US Constitution: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
This month I had so many great conversations about CEDAW. I spoke with Michelle Osorio, who is implementing it for Santa Clara County and provided me with a lot of great info, including the tidbit that the county is putting its money where its mouth is by paying for 1 FTE (1 full time employee in government-funding-speak) to ensure it is properly implemented.
I also spoke with a staff member of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women about their work implementing CEDAW. Here are my notes on that conversation, since I think it provided excellent background:
History of CEDAW in San Francisco
- Initially passed 20 years ago
- Initial funding: 1 FTE + consultants for gender analysis tool
- The gender analysis tool they developed is now freely available on their website. It covers: workforce, services, budget (budget is the hardest to implement, but powerful).
- Current staffing: 6 FTEs + 1 grant-funded FTE
- Current budget: $7mil; $6mil goes right back out into the community as grants to DV shelters, human trafficking task forces, etc.
- Securing staffing is essential.
- If she had to do it all over again, she would have framed her department’s work as:
- Good government
- Ensuring government knows who its serving.
- Effective implementation of CEDAW is all about data disaggregated 1) by gender, 2) by race, and 3) gender by race.
- A possible way forwards: Their department is thinking of mandating every single city/county report includes gender data, race data, gender by race data. This is exactly why staffing is vital — most departments don’t have this data, don’t know how to collect it, and don’t know how to manage it, so they need a technical staff person who can help the departments develop these reports.
3 Good Outcomes of CEDAW Implementation
- The city/county should be able to demonstrate the baseline of how much money is being spent on the needs of women and girls.
- The city/county should be able to demonstrate that the city is making equitable investments.
- Examples of impact: tracing and better responding to the needs of women in homelessness, who are less visible than single men, but can have specific needs; there’s now a girl’s baseball team (not softball) because of their analysis of spending in Parks and Rec; more here.
Action: I’ll be drafting a letter from the commission to city council asking them to fund 3 FTEs to implement CEDAW at the city level, for review and a vote at the next meeting; I also moved for the creation of an ad hoc committee to work on this, reviewing the letter and beginning to think-through what implementation looks like in our city. I’m so glad that Tayesa Knight, Kimberly Carvallison, and Tiffany Maciel will be joining me and sharing their wisdom as long-serving commissioners with decades of experience helping the people of San José.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Invitation
Here’s the text of this action item and an explanation below: “Vote to approve that the Commission send a letter inviting the Gilroy ICE spokesperson James Schwab to attend an up-coming Commission meeting.”
This was an action item I requested be added, because of three things I learned as a scheduler for Senator Kamala Harris, back when she was California’s Attorney General:
- Schedules are statements of values: who we speak to, listen to, let share our time is a great way to demonstrate what we care about. We may not like the organizations people come from, but we need to understand how they impact those we care about. On the other side of that coin is that showing-up when someone invites you to something is a statement of respect, either for them or for who they represent.
- Invitations don’t need to be accepted to be powerful. People in the public-eye get hundreds, sometimes thousands, more invitations than they can ever accept. But being invited to something — a graduation, a birthday party, a commission meeting — is an indication that the inviter is thinking of you and wants you to know that. This can of course be a good or a bad thing.
- Elected and appointed officials generally-speaking have 3 kinds of power.
- Statutory power: the power associated with their office.
- Power of the press: Like invitations, interviews and articles can be good, bad, or mixed; but if you believe that power comes from people, there is nothing like the press to connect your ideas to lots of people and entice feedback.
- Convening power: Most official positions boil down to asking questions; thinking, talking, and writing about the answers; asking harder, better questions; making tough decisions; and being accountable for your decisions and the process you used to reach them. People who want to be a part of that decision-making process will want to talk to officials about what they think and believe; officials get to choose who to listen to and who to invite to speak.
The Human Services Commission has no statutory power, as one city council staffer reminds me every time we see each other; we don’t have a budget and we can’t pass laws or policies: our job is to advise city council. But if the press is interested, we can connect our ideas to a wider audience and get better feedback that way; and as you saw above from our list of speakers, there are people who are willing to speak with us when we convene.
What I told the commission tonight is what I believe: the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s enforcement of federal immigration law is capricious and cruel, scaring our immigrant families and leaving too many children in our city without a sense of security or a future. If you haven’t been tracking it, the raids — and threats of raids — are things of 1930s nightmares.
I’m pretty public about supporting Dreamers, about fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, about my belief that immigration is the warp of our national fabric, so there’s no going to be any surprise as to what kinds of questions I intend to ask if the ICE spokesperson decides to attend. Anyone who was in the commission room this evening during the conversation with Mr Fuentes knows I can ask hard questions.
But that does not mean I do not want Mr Schwab to refuse our invitation; I want him to come and sit with us and explain his agency’s position. I want to hear it directly from him, rather than second hand from my neighbors who wake-up wondering if this is the morning they will watch their friends dragged away in handcuffs. I want him to answer our questions, to do us the respect of answering them, so we can have the whole picture of the cause of the pain sweeping through our communities. I hope he says yes.
(Before I finish this topic, I want to take a quick aside: this parenthetical will get pretty nerdy, but if you’ve made it this far, a bit of parliamentary procedure won’t scare you off. This is the story of how this motion passed.
At the last meeting of the commission, I had wanted to ask for a vote to extend this invitation to ICE. But we couldn’t, because it hadn’t been agendized as a vote (this rule ensures members of the public who want to know when action is being taken on issues they care about can prioritize attending meetings where votes are being taken, not just discussions had). Then I asked for it to be agendized as a vote for the next meeting.
Fast-forward to tonight: the chair read the item and I gave a brief explanation of why I was asking my fellow commissioners to vote for it. Then we had a brief discussion, where it became clear that for valid reasons, two of the six commissioners present wouldn’t be supporting this motion (their concern had to do with wanting more time to discuss the overall ramifications, not a lack of support for the concept).
As anyone who’s breathed in a campaign office knows, there is only one equation in a democracy, and it is 50%+1. So, for my action item to pass, I needed 3 commissioners plus 1 to vote for it. Or, and here is where the delicate rules of Rosenberg’s rules of order come in, I would need 50%+1 of those voting, minus abstentions. At first vote count, we had 3 for, then 2 against. One commissioner was unsure, wanting more time, but not wanting to vote against it; I don’t think I breathed the entire time she was thinking it through out loud. Then she decided to abstain. That meant we had a majority of those voting and my motion passed! If she’d voted no, we would have had a tie, and we could not have sent the invitation. But we didn’t and now we get to move forward. I love this kind of thing.)
Action: Our stalwart commission staffer will be extending the initial invitation. I will start drafting my questions and will ask for an action item for the next agenda to check-in on how the invitation was received and what action we need to take.
I very much enjoyed my second commission meeting. We talked about tough, timely, important issues impacting vulnerable and resilient people in our city. I got to know my fellow commissioners better, got to invite a new friend to share his powerful perspective, and got to watch my first real motion carry the day by a whisker. Below are the items I’m going to request be added to the March or April agendas and the research I intend to do:
- Action: Vote to follow-up with a letter to ICE inviting them to speak, if we have not heard back by the next meeting. I will draft that letter.
- Action: Vote to send a letter to each member of city council plus the mayor requesting 3 FTEs to implement CEDAW in our city. I will draft that letter.
- Action: Vote to recommend to city council that SJPD take-over the handling, storage, and return of the belongings of people who are homeless’s after sweeps.
Below are the topics I need to do more research into for the next meeting (if you know something about them, please share! My contact information is at the bottom):
- Research: talk with members of the community, service providers, and staff about what form an advisory board/commission to address the concerns Mr King brought up would take (should it be a standing board or every 5 years; should it be city-wide or county-wide; etc); recommend to city council that a vastly simpler path for correcting how people who are homeless are treated needs to be paved. This may also include a request to the auditor to review contracts with the advice of the advisory board in-mind.
- Research: Good questions for SJPD, who will be speaking at the next commission meeting.
- Research: Good questions for Uplift Family Services, whose representative will be speaking at the next commission meeting.
- Research: What does an excellent response to human trafficking looks like at the city level, particularly looking for research partners at local universities.
- Research: What organizations can help send awesome Census volunteers our on 3/10 and 3/24?
PS: I heard that my city councilmember sent my last blog post out to the community — so if you live in D2 and want me to add something else to the agenda, or have any kind of feedback, comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.