By 3:30 on Monday afternoon, City Hall was all smiles as Supervisor Jane Kim and supporters of the "Fair Chance Act" for ex-felons legislation won the Land Use committee's approval of the legislation. The committee must approve new amendments next week, and the Fair Chance Act then goes on to the full Board where passage is expected. The measure removes the box on housing and employment applications that ask if someone has been convicted of a felony, increasing chances that those seeking to remake their lives will get the opportunity to do so.
“We have the full support of the district attorney, lawyers … [and] the Sheriff’s Department on this measure,” said Supervisor Kim, who chaired Monday’s Land Use meeting, which lasted a full two hours and saw numerous people tell their stories about the need for better support in order for those whose past has haunted them in searching for work and a place to call home.
The goal of the meeting was to delve further into the Fair Chance Act, which aims to enable those rehabilitating from any criminal offense to have a fighting chance to turn their lives around. The hope with the legislation is to force employers to end their refusal to interview and consider potential job seekers who have been convicted of a criminal offense in their past, including those who have had their records expunged.
As residents exclaimed their support, the Act appears to have received a kick in the rear towards approval by the entire Board of Supervisors. While a vote is yet to be set, a unanimous vote is expected.
For one elderly woman, Phoebe Wanderhure, a life of heroin addiction and time in and out of prison shouldn’t deter her from a new chance to succeed.
“If you can’t get a job, can’t pay rent, you end up back on the street,” she told the committee, adding that she understands the reality of too many homeless on the streets of the city who can’t return to society and recover from their years of being downtrodden. She herself spent many years on and off the streets and told the audience of around 100 that the future for many in the city could very well be dependent on this legislation coming to fruition.
She wasn’t the only one making it clear that the future for families is paramount to this Act being passed. Natalie Lyons of Equal Rights Advocates told Supervisor Kim that many of those being forced out of work and low-income housing are mothers.
“The great majority of women with past convictions mothers, caretakers,” and urged the BOS to pass the motion without hesitation in order to help rectify the lives of San Franciscans the city over.
Numerous signature campaigns were heard, with thousands of signatures being gathered to show the city’s overwhelming support for the FAC. In many cases, the meeting was one of emotions as well as legal precedents and past initiatives aimed at assisting those in need.
Still, Kim was adamant that the legislation would not force employers to hire anyone with a criminal past, saying “The most important thing to remember about my #FairChanceAct
is that this is not a hiring mandate. We just want” to give those in need a fighting chance.
San Francisco has long shown a desire to assist those in need, said James Tracy, the first one to speak at the event, even as the lights dimmed in uncharacteristic dramatic fashion.
“I usually like to make a dramatic appearance, but didn’t mean to have the lights go dark,” he began the session with chuckles from the audience, although quickly getting to the crux of the matter, saying the issue is “of vital importance to the city” if they are to maintain its status as a city “based on justice.”