'We save lives': SF ambassadors push back as safety program could be cut amid budget deficit

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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
SF ambassadors push back as community safety program could be cut
In San Francisco, a 14-year-old program that helps the community with safety and resources is at risk of being eliminated during the upcoming budget.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In San Francisco, a 14-year-old program that helps the community with safety and resources is at risk of being eliminated during the upcoming budget.

With backpacks on and flyers ready San Francisco Community Ambassadors Toni Zachary and Daniel Abera are on a mission every day.

"We do outreach for unhoused individuals," Abera said. "We save lives. We give out resources, referral material. Social service material. We partner with a nonprofit organization and we give safety escort to unhoused individuals, senior citizens."

San Francisco's Community Ambassador Program started in 2010 in response to increased violence, and the need for better community safety options in the Bayview and Visitation Valley neighborhoods.

Zachary remembers seeing the ambassadors when she was in school. Now there are ambassadors in six neighborhoods, and she is one of them.

"When I was in middle school, I used to see the community ambassadors on the T line and I think it helped prevent a lot of snatchings, fights," said Zachary.

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San Francisco's latest budget cuts are set to impact this program. Today ambassadors rallied outside city hall hoping to save the program.

"It's not just the city's only city-operated ambassador program, it is a nationally recognized model for how you deliver these services in community in a culturally compassionate way," said SF Supervisor Dean Preston.

Zachary showed ABC7 News the Narcan in her bag. She used one of the packs recently to save a life.

"We carry this to reverse overdoses," said Zachary.

Data shows that from Fiscal Year 2023-2024, ambassadors have made 48,811 reports to 311, over 4,500 safety escorts and 65,110 wellness checks.

Under neighborhood support ambassadors have done nearly 100,000 merchant visits.

"When someone is going through a sycosis or outside their door, they call us to check in with them. They don't all the police," said Abera.

San Francisco Mayor's office said the city is prioritizing direct services programs and has to eliminate funding for multiple programs.

"Streamlining our ambassador program and really making them work more efficiently for the city because we have downtown, we have Urban Alchemy, we have Union Square, we have the OCA," said Mayor London Breed.

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Mayor Breed said they are planning to fund them through the first fiscal year.

"We are going to work to try and potentially transition them all into other job opportunities," said Mayor Breed.

Community ambassadors want the program to survive.

"We are not a burden, but we are a solution for the city," said Abera.

San Francisco is planning to invest in other ambassador and outreach programs.

The mayor's office said:

"The Mayor is also maintaining a significant investment in ambassadors and outreach teams, including funding for SFPD Community (retired Police) Ambassadors, Welcome Ambassadors, Mid-market and Tenderloin ambassadors (Urban Alchemy), and various street response teams that work with individuals in crisis. like the Mid-market and Urban Alchemy ambassadors' program."

San Francisco is facing an $800 million deficit. As it stands now the ambassador program will continue through the next fiscal year, but it does not have funding beyond that.

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