In the last two months, we’ve seen the entire notion of “normal” turned upside-down. If you had told me in January that I wouldn’t be making my weekly commute to the Capitol or attending any in-person events and meetings, and that instead, I’d be doing Zoom meetings with constituents, advocates, and health experts, helping countless people access unemployment benefits, and attending remote hearings and virtual town halls, I would not have believed you.
As someone who’s been in public life for over a decade, I am not used to spending any significant amount of time in my home — when I’m not in Sacramento advancing bills through the Legislature, I’m in San Francisco meeting with constituents, attending community events, and speaking at town halls. Home, for me, is typically about getting ready in the morning and getting home late at night and maybe watching the news while eating a burrito. Not the healthiest lifestyle, but it’s the life that I chose.
So, it’s been an adjustment for me, to say the least, to shelter in place in my small place in the Castro. Everyone has had their “normal” turned upside-down in one way or another. And I’m incredibly privileged, during this time of suffering, to have a roof over my head, to continue to have a paycheck, and to have my health. And, on the bright side, I’ve gotten reacquainted with cooking.
Helping Our Constituents
Sheltering in place for me and for Team Wiener has been anything but a vacation. People are struggling right now, and I and my office — my staff are working from their homes as well — have been working overtime helping folks get connected to appropriate resources and sharing information. Helping the people we represent is our top priority right now. We receive many constituent requests, most frequently about unemployment benefits (and the absolutely unacceptable delays at the Employment Development Department), food benefits and resources, and concerns about not being able to pay rent due to economic hardship. It’s an honor to be able to assist our constituents in their time of need. That’s why we’re here. I want to personally thank my district staff — Jeff, Farris, Alex, Rose, and Francis — as well as my Communications Director Catie, who are working tirelessly to support and communicate with our community during this difficult time period. Our district interns Jackson, Jaclyn, Michelle and Richmond have also been such a great help to my office, and have been working from their homes to support constituents.
Our Legislative Work Continues
And as we move through this pandemic, our legislative work moves forward, albeit remotely for the moment. As we prepare for our COVID-delayed legislative session — the Senate resumes our legislative session on May 11 — I’ve been working hard with our Capitol staff on legislation to protect renters from eviction (I’m co-authoring Assemblymember Phil Ting’s bill on that front) and legislation to help save our small businesses and nonprofits by giving them a fighting chance to keep their retail or office spaces. I also advocated, along with colleagues, for a statewide eviction moratorium during the emergency and for the courts not to hear eviction lawsuits other than those raising safety issues.
I have more bill announcements coming this week and thereafter — focusing on COVID health data collection, small businesses, economic recovery, and ensuring we stay on track with housing. And we will pursue a focused legislative package this year, around COVID recovery, housing, homelessness, mental health, addiction, access to food, and wildfires. I’ve also been vocal about the need for universal vote-by-mail after seeing the disaster that unfolded in Wisconsin last month when people were forced to vote in person during a pandemic. I’ll be co-authoring legislation to move California in that direction.
Thank you to my hard-working Capitol staff — Krista, Brady, Tate, Annie, Miles, Angela, Seve, Dante and our intern Marshall — for continuing our work to tackle some of the hardest issues facing California, due to COVID and pre-dating the pandemic. Capitol staff have also pitched in to field constituent calls about unemployment and other needs. It’s been a great and collaborative team effort.
Supporting Our Community
During this tough time period, we’ve focused extensively on supporting our community. We’ve focused intensively on the increased food insecurity we’re seeing as a result of the pandemic and economic shutdown. I’ve been volunteering regularly at the food bank, Meals on Wheels, Project Open Hand, and St. Anthony’s Dining Room (now takeout), as well as delivering pet food and supplies to homebound seniors through Pets Are Wonderful Supports (PAWS). I partnered with Yoga Teacher extraordinaire Danni Pomplun to do a virtual yoga class to raise funds for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.
I worked with pizza connoisseur and anti-hunger activist Scott Wiener (yes, there’s another Scott Wiener, no we’re not related, and yes he’s awesome) to deliver pizzas to hospital staff at different hospitals in San Francisco and San Mateo County. Thanks to you, we raised hundreds of dollars to brighten the days of healthcare workers across the district, who are putting themselves at risk everyday to care for patients.
As a gay man and chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, I’ve gone to bat for our community during this pandemic. Along with my colleague Assemblymember Todd Gloria of San Diego, I asked Governor Newsom and public health officials to begin collecting data on COVID-19’s impacts on the LGBTQ community — a community that we know has elevated health risk factors. We also raised awareness about the FDA’s ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood and plasma unless they’ve been celibate for an extended period of time. Our advocacy helped lead to the FDA relaxing its policy (though not nearly enough). We hosted our two #GiveForAGay Blood Drives, asking straight people to give on behalf of gay and bisexual men who are banned. Several hundred of you gave blood as part of these drives — thank you! Mayor London Breed graciously gave on my behalf.
Additionally, I’ve worked hard to get resources to all of my constituents and have done over 20 virtual town halls on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I’ll continue to host these virtual town halls regularly. I’ve learned through this process that although it’s not ideal to hold town halls virtually, they reach far more people than live town halls and engage many people who likely wouldn’t attend a live town hall. So, that’s a silver lining in terms of connecting with and engaging more and more people I have the honor of representing.
Just last week, I co-hosted a National LGBTQ Town Hall with Governor Jared Polis of Colorado and five other LGBTQ state officials from across the country. I’ve hosted or participated in various other town halls focused on food insecurity, small businesses, housing, and more. Last week we held a fun virtual event to raise awareness about wearing masks in public — a creative mask competition judged by four drag queens (Peaches Christ, BeBe Sweetbriar, Donna Sachet, and Sister Roma). We received more than 150 submissions and, I hope, helped persuade people that masks are important and that they don’t have to be boring.
We’ll be doing a lot more community engagement in the coming weeks, focused on mental health, transportation, and the future of housing.
I also want to share some resources in the hope they’ll be helpful to you. And please, contact my office at any time if you need assistance. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 557–1300. My website is www.sd11.senate.ca.gov.
- Federal Resources Assistance
- How to Help
- Small Business Resources
- Nonprofit Resources
- Testing Information
- Unemployment Guide
- Unemployment Guide for Freelancers
- Food Resources
- Mental Health Resources
- Undocumented and Immigrant Assistance
- Resources for Religious Observance
- Social Distancing Dos and Don’ts
We will get through this together, because we are a resilient community. It is a deep honor to represent and serve you in the Senate. And, once again, do not hesitate to reach out to me or my office if you need help.