The Public Press Blog

Journalism and the Arc of Social Justice

A panel of experts and stakeholders explained the state of the homelessness crisis at our January 2018 event, Solving Homelessness: a Community Workshop, an event that overlapped with our continuing print and online coverage of the issue. Photo by Garrick Wong // San Francisco Public Press/Renaissance Journalism


We honestly didn’t expect the issue of homelessness in San Francisco to find resolution anytime soon. But this fall, with November’s passage of Proposition C — the business tax that could generate as much as $300 million a year for housing and homeless services — we saw the search for solutions jump off the pages of newspapers and into the real world.

Over the last year and a half, the Public Press has returned again and again to investigating broken systems for providing housing and social services. We have explored creative ideas from community members who are bent on solving the ongoing humanitarian crisis on our streets.

Our recent efforts started in summer 2017, when we reported that lack of capacity was straining the city’s “navigation center” shelter model, which aimed to break down tent encampments and move people into permanent homes.

Then that fall, we published a package of stories exploring solutions to homelessness, in the run-up to a day-long conference in January where we gave the stage to community leaders proposing ideas for opening up more housing, improving medical treatment for people living on the streets and reconnecting people with families.

The cover story in our solutions issue revealed data about the shockingly high vacancy rate in single-room occupancy hotels, which our reporters found could — if rented and refurbished by the city — house more than 40 percent of the people sleeping on the streets. This November, that edition of the paper won awards for community reporting and graphic design from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The investigative story, by freelance reporter Joe Eskenazi, was so widely read and influential that its findings were circulated in the June 2018 mayoral election, as candidate Mark Leno made filling those rooms the top plank in his political platform. Two other candidates echoed that idea on the campaign trail.

The problem of homelessness is multifaceted, and so we continued to report on broken systems that receive little public scrutiny over many months. Last spring we examined programs that send homeless families to apartments outside of San Francisco, and found that a lack of follow-up made it unclear whether the program had succeeded at its ambitious rehousing goals.

When we started this reporting, we never had a specific policy agenda to push, other than responding to the feedback of several hundred Public Press members, newsletter subscribers and social media fans who said homelessness and the housing affordability crisis had left them feeling disempowered. More than anything, San Franciscans want to know how they can help.

Proposition C, a grassroots initiative, was controversial to be sure. Mayor London Breed and other prominent politicians opposed it, and they were joined by vociferous tech titans suspicious of wasteful bureaucracy. But after the measure’s success at the ballot box, conversation moved quickly to how the city could get to work making the most effective, accountable use of existing and expanded funding.

The Public Press, as regular readers know, does not do advocacy journalism. We don’t make endorsements, and we don’t tell people how to vote. Yet we are encouraged that a problem that has victimized so many poor and infirm people, and scared and saddened some of those lucky enough to have homes, is finally at the forefront of public policy — and that San Francisco is no longer ignoring its most heartbreaking inequity.

Michael Stoll, Executive Director

Lila LaHood, Publisher

Against the Algorithm

Lila LaHood, publisher, and Michael Stoll, executive director. Photo by Daphne Magnawa // San Francisco Public Press

Though the newspaper and are still the main ways we communicate with readers, like many news organizations we’re always looking ahead toward changes in how people consume local news.

We recently tried a new way of connecting directly with readers craving insider info on city politics: Project Text, a two-month pilot in partnership with the Alpha Group at Advance Digital. We deployed veteran political reporter Joe Eskenazi to serve up daily text message tidbits — and several scoops! — around the June election. We love that so many people engaged with Joe and shared their own insights. We hope to launch another topic-focused text project this fall — stay tuned for details.

In the meantime, we encourage San Francisco news mavens to join us as eager followers of Mission Local ( where Joe was recently hired as managing editor.

Many of you follow the Public Press on social media, and we will keep posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But Facebook has caused a lot of problems for journalists recently by changing its rules about what it calls “political content.” To combat fake news, the social giant started limiting distribution of journalism about politics along with political ads. This policy also applies to news stories referencing topics Facebook classifies as “national issues of public importance,” defined as: abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism and values.

In response to pushback from media outlets and journalism organizations, Facebook modified the policy and now captures promoted news stories (i.e. whenever publishers pay for increased visibility) about political issues and political ads in separate archives. To boost stories on the platform, journalists who cover hard news now face extra layers of authorization and scrutiny.

We’ve decided not to pursue authorization for this service, which we think could have unforeseen consequences for participating news organizations. You’ll still see our stories on Facebook, but we’ll depend on organic distribution, since most of our stories will get caught in the political and issues-of-public importance-filters. We’re not alone in our thinking and are heartened to be part of a national coalition of news organizations appealing to Facebook to change these rules. We’ll let you know what happens.

In the meantime, the best and most certain way to get updates about the latest Public Press reporting and events remains our email newsletter. Sign up here — — and you’ll always be in the know.

Lila LaHood, publisher

Michael Stoll, executive director

Challenge Grant From Jonathan Logan Family Foundation

The San Francisco Public Press is pleased to announce an exciting $25,000 challenge grant from the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. The foundation also made a gift of $25,000 in unrestricted funding. 

To trigger the match, the Public Press must raise $25,000 in new contributions. The goal is to draw support from new members. But if you’re already a member, you can still help! Increased contributions from existing supporters qualify, too.

The Public Press will receive the match as soon as we reach the goal, and we’re aiming to raise $10,000 by June 8.

Your support is essential for the Public Press to continue producing local, public-interest journalism for San Francisco and the Bay Area. Join us for this match and double the power of your donation!

Thank you for helping us access this wonderful opportunity.

Jonathan Logan Family Foundation logo

David Cohn Leads the Public Press Board

In January, the Public Press board of directors elected nationally recognized journalism innovator David Cohn as its chair. David replaces independent filmmaker Marc Smolowitz, who stepped down after having expertly guided the board through its incorporation in 2009. Both David and Marc helped start planning for the Public Press in 2007.

David, who lives in Berkeley, has dedicated his career to journalism in unconventional ways. He founded Spot.Us and Circa, which pioneered crowdfunding and mobile journalism respectively. Later he became an “intrapreneur” for Al Jazeera, helping to launch AJ+. Currently he directs the R&D team of Advance Digital.

“I've been involved with the Public Press since it was just an idea,” he said. “I’ve always been impressed with the determination, ethics and quality that permeate the entire organization, from top to bottom. I'm humbled to be the chair of the board, and I expect great things in the coming year for the organization. The Public Press has a ton under its belt already, and the current media environment demands more from the journalism community.”

10 Things I Learned About Homelessness at Our Community Workshop

At the Impact Hub in the Mission District, a workshop tackled problem-solving for initiatives by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Photo by Garrick Wong // San Francisco Public Press/Renaissance Journalism

It was a dizzying day at our Jan. 25 conference, Solving Homelessness: A Community Workshop.

With dozens of speakers and hundreds of side conversations among the 200 attendees, it was clear that the reporting we’ve done at the Public Press to gather and investigate just a few of the most intriguing ideas for solutions to the human rights crisis playing out on our streets daily has just scratched the surface.

By engaging the community, we opened ourselves up to criticism but also reaped the reward of an activated public. Many attendees — neighbors distressed by the sight of people living on the sidewalks and in marginal shelters, as well as subject experts who have devoted their lives and careers to helping stabilize people’s lives — said they learned new things and got inspired to follow up with proposals for fixes to broken systems.

I was surprised to learn a few things too. Here are 10:

  1. Mark Farrell wants to be the homelessness mayor.  That’s what Jeff Kositsky, the director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, told me after rushing in after a series of meetings with the new mayor about his priorities Farrell — the surprising choice for a caretaker mayor after his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors ousted the board president, London Breed, from her temporary job — is very focused on making progress on homelessness, he said. But what can he possibly get done before the special election in June? 
  2. Wheels for the homeless are a sticking point. Kositsky clashed with activist Amy Farah Weiss, whose Saint Francis Homelessness Challenge advocates building temporary structures on wheels organized into ad-hoc clusters on city or donated private land. Kositsky is a fan of building a range of experimental small housing structures, including legal accessory dwelling units in backyards and basements. But anything with wheels, which are hard to get to conform to building and health codes, is a problem for a city department focused on permanent housing.
  3. Alaska is the socialist vanguard. Ken Fisher of the Economic Justice Project/Truth Be Told presented one of the more in-vogue, if quixotic, ideas — universal basic income. Granted that there aren’t many scenarios in which local and state government could provide large checks to every citizen to cover the basic cost of living here, he did provide one counterintuitive example: the Alaska Permanent Fund for decades has given checks to every resident as a dividend from oil industry royalties. Where is California’s commodity windfall to level the playing field for the poor?
  4. S.F. really is a homelessness “magnet.” The third rail of homelessness policy in San Francisco is the so-called magnet theory — the question of whether, by providing generous services and subsidized housing, City Hall is drawing homeless people here. Kositsky pointed out that in recent surveys, about half of the newly homeless in San Francisco came from somewhere else (mostly other cities in the Bay Area). That’s a different slice on the same survey that also says that about 70 percent of all  unhoused homeless were living in the city when they became homeless. I asked him if the data on churn in the newly homeless lent credence to the “magnet theory.” He said no. His point was that we need regional solutions, in which cities cooperate to help people out of homelessness where they come from. However ...
  5. We theoretically can afford to house everyone. “The reality is that we’re serving about 20,000 people a year, with about a third of our budget,” Kositsky said of his department in a talk at the close of the event. “We just cannot build our way out of this.” In fact, he could afford to do it — with a budget of about $750 million a year. That’s three times the current budget. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not technically impossible, considering the city’s budget this year is topping $10.1 billion.
  6. There are many missing persons. One of the most surprising presentations was by Kevin Adler, whose nonprofit organization, Miracle Messages, helps connect homeless people with their loved ones. Some people struggle with mental illness and thus problems doing the research themselves. Others are ashamed. The organization reunites them with family members and friends who can help support them either here or in other parts of the country.
  7. Welcome, village people. Several presenters envisioned micro-housing — tiny, private abodes that can be built for a few thousand dollars each. These are not exactly Weiss’s idea of mobile structures, but rather permanent small villages. The key to neighborhood acceptance, said architect Charles Durrett, is attractive design.
  8. Not in my parking space. You’ve probably heard the phrase “not in my backyard.” Architect/designer Richard Tsai has produced renderings of his proposed “Park Shelter”: beautifully furnished industrial shipping containers that can each fit into a standard parking space. The approach is sound, assuming the requisite political will: The streets are public property that localities can put to a public purpose, and there are more than enough parking spaces to house every homeless person in one of the steel boxes, he said. But what is lacking is the consensus that spots for cars should be sacrificed to get people out of being exposed to the elements in tents, sleeping bags, cardboard boxes (or even their own cars).
  9. Businesses, too, can help. On a panel of people who have experienced homelessness, Shanna Orona (a.k.a Couper) has quite a story to tell. She was a firefighter who lost her job and split with her domestic partner, and through the economic tumult ended up on the streets. She said that when she was living in a tent, people wouldn’t look her in the eye. It was humiliating. The Impact Hub San Francisco, a co-working space in the Mission District where the conference was held, offered her a space in their parking lot for a micro-home on wheels built by St. Francis Homelessness Challenge. In exchange, she helps out with events and logistics. More businesses could do the same, though it’s not at all clear this is a scalable solution. (Read more about Couper and her box home here.)
  10. People care. Of about 200 people who attended the event for the whole day, many were already working on solutions through their jobs or activist projects. But probably the majority were average concerned residents, looking for a way to help. The conference was a chance for them to get up to speed quickly and offer their reflections on solution ideas that were already in motion. And in afternoon workshops, nearly everyone had a chance to speak and offer their own ideas.

At separate breakout groups, participants discussed possible solutions involving mobile transitional villages and services beyond housing. Photo by Garrick Wong // San Francsco Public Press/Renaissance Journalism

At separate breakout groups, participants discussed possible solutions involving mobile transitional villages and services beyond housing. Photo by Garrick Wong // San Francisco Public Press/Renaissance Journalism

Did you attend “Solving Homelessness: A Community Workshop” on Jan. 25? Did you come away with other assessments? What made a big impression for you? What are the most promising — and most problematic — proposals for solutions? Add your thoughts in the comments below, or on our Facebook page. And sign up for our email newsletter for updates and follow-ups on the event.

Give News to the Ones You Love

2017 Holiday Gift Package

Wracking your brain to come up with the perfect present for your favorite newsie? Have we got a gift for you!

Check out our 2017 holiday gift package, which includes:

  • A one-year membership with the San Francisco Public Press — including home delivery of the next four issues, beginning with Issue 24 in February 2018. Delivered by bicycle in San Francisco.
  • Your recipient’s name listed as a member in the next four issues.
  • A canvas tote bag with the Public Press logo in orange.
  • A reporter’s notebook with the Public Press logo.
  • Copies of all four print issues published in 2017.

For a donation of at least $50, we will send all of the above to your designated recipient!

If you would like us to mail a 2017 holiday gift package, place your order by noon on Tuesday, Dec. 19, to ensure USPS delivery by Saturday, Dec. 23.

If you would like to pick up a gift package, they will be available at our office (44 Page St., Suite 504) through 2 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 22. Call 415-495-7377 or email to coordinate a pick-up time.

The Big Bonus: Your Generosity Will Be Doubled

By choosing the 2017 holiday gift package, not only will you get credit for selecting an awesome, unique gift and supporting local, public-interest journalism, you will also be helping the Public Press double your donation through NewsMatch, which is matching contributions from individuals dollar-for-dollar, up to $1,000 per person through Dec. 31. Your charitable donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Happy Holidays! And thank you for your support!

Fund for Investigative Journalism Awards $9,000 Grant to Public Press

The Public Press is delighted to announce that it has received a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism for $9,000 — the third grant it has received from the foundation. The Public Press will report in 2018 on the role of the Silicon Valley tech industry in dealing with issues of data security.

3rd John Swett Award from the California Teachers Association

The California Teachers Association honored the San Francisco Public Press with a John Swett Award for Media Excellence on Friday, June 2. Jeremy Adam Smith, who was the lead reporter for the special report on bilingual schools, attended the awards ceremony in Los Angeles. This is the third time the Public Press has received a John Swett Award for education reporting led by Smith.

Left to right: United Educators of San Francisco President Lita Blanc, CTA Vice President Theresa Montano, Jeremy Adam Smith, CTA State Council Communications Committee Chair Mona Davidson, CTA President Eric Heins and CTA Secretary-Treasurer David Goldberg. Photo courtesy of California Teachers Association.

Meet Our Staff Editors

Our newsroom editing team works with dozens of freelance reporters, editors, photographers, illustrators, designers and interns to guide our in-depth stories uncovering public policy problems and investigating solutions.

Michael Winter, Senior Editor

“Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate had exhausted the country, and Jimmy Carter was president when I wandered into journalism, first in college radio, then newspapers. Since then, I’ve reported, edited, blogged, done press checks; worked at major metro and national dailies; helped get SF Weekly off the ground; helped publish a magazine; adopted early to digital news; taught editing; trained staffs overseas. I’ve been part of the Public Press since Day One.

“My role in the newsroom is to make writers’ lives difficult, unfortunately. So many questions! Comments! Revisions! We work a story hard, digging for as much detail, context and insight as possible. I’m a bit like a camera lens that both zooms in to macro and pulls back to wide angle, all the while looking for what might be obscured or hidden (X-ray glasses come in handy).”

Noah Arroyo, Assistant Editor & Lead Reporter

“We’re always looking for deep insights — generally, that entails a lot of digging for empirical evidence. To get that, we regularly seek out and pester experts and government officials, camping out in front of their offices when necessary. On many days I’ve set a recurring alarm on my phone, reminding me to call a source again and again until I reach them.

“That’s how we get the insider’s perspective. That’s how we get the data that allows us to create spreadsheets and charts mapping out the complex anatomy of a topic. After getting this broad view, we ask ourselves which aspects would be most important to readers.”

Our Interns: Sarah Asch, Zach Benjamin and Hannah Kaplan

Meet Our Newest Board Member: Kaizar Campwala

“Local journalism matters. The Public Press is a standout example of a team that doesn’t compromise in their mission to hold local government to account. At the same time, they approach their job of informing citizens with an openness to think outside the box and cut through the noise that overwhelms media consumers today.”

— Kaizar Campwala

Kaizar is the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Al Jazeera Digital, where he is launching a new, audio-focused media brand later this year. He previously helped develop CALmatters, which he helped develop from an idea to a fully-funded operation as president and co-founder. The Sacramento-based reporting venture focuses on explaining the policy and politics of California state government. government. Before that, Kaizar was director of content and partnerships at Stitcher, the leading independent mobile podcast app; and managing editor of NewsTrust, a news aggregator focused on crowdsourcing authoritative journalism. He began his career developing communications solutions for the City of New York. He earned an A.B. in political science from Brown University, and an MBA from UCLA.

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