San Francisco has one of the biggest homelessness problems in the country, with a homelessness ratio of 1 in 254 according to Project HOME, compared to 1 in 2,555 for New York and 1 in 1,661 for Chicago. Photo by Hélène Goupil.

San Francisco is trying several new ideas to combat homelessness after a ten-year-long attempt to place homeless people in permanent housing has not succeeded, reported SF Gate.

The article is part a series titled “Shame of the City” in which SF Gate covers reporting done by the Chronicle, stretching back a decade:

We trip over them on the sidewalk every day. We curse, hand them a dollar, or don’t. We feel pity, sorrow, guilt and rage at their presence. The city spends $200 million a year trying to get homeless people off the streets and into a better way of life – and though much progress has been made over the past couple of decades, the problem never goes away.

The more able of the homeless find their way into shelters, counseling and housing programs. But the most chronically indigent, called the hard core, are so entrenched that they are particularly tough to pull up off the street into healthier lives. These 3,000 to 5,000 homeless at the very bottom are the most visible, and they give the city its dubious distinction of having what many call the most visible homeless problem in the country.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan and photographer Brant Ward have been covering the homeless scene in San Francisco and throughout the nation for more than 10 years. They began their collaboration in 2003 by spending six months in the streets, parks and alleys with the homeless and those who deal with them — health care workers, police, tourists, residents, business people, commuters — in an attempt to answer the questions: How did San Francisco, one of the most sophisticated and cultured cities in the world come to have so many people living so blatantly, so openly, in misery? And what are the best ways to help them?

The article mentions the following plans, among others:

  1. “Climbing up ‘housing ladder’” — Major Ed Lee wants homeless people to continue up the “housing ladder” so that they don’t get stuck. He wants the path to be from supportive housing to public housing to affordable market housing, adding that the city should foster a “spirit of advancement” by focusing on job training and education.
  2. “Developing an integrated system to track use of homeless services” — Next month San Francisco will pilot this “coordinated assessment” program, by which city officials are able to keep track of who is seeking housing and other services in order to better match availability and need. Bevan Dufty, the man in charge of homelessness under Major Lee, wants to focus on “the very chronically homeless, those who’ve lived on the streets for 15 years or more.”
  3. “Ongoing care at medical shelter” — Many people seeking public shelters come straight from the hospital, often unable to care for themselves and with open wounds, an issue that regular shelter staff cannot handle. A new medical shelter would provide the type of care needed by these shelter-seekers, though a space has apparently not been found yet.

These proposals during Major Lee’s administration come after his predecessor Major Gavin Newsom unveiled his Ten Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness in 2004, promising that much of the problem would be fixed in a decade. The plan focused on establishing permanent housing for the homeless, but things have not dramatically changed in the last ten years.

According to the Examiner, some 6,436 people were counted as “homeless” in San Francisco in 2013, of whom 3,401 were living on the street.

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1 Comment

  1. If Lee’s idea here of a migration from supportive housing to BMR entitlement is an attempt to give priority for subsidized housing to those who are homeless over those who are employed and pay their own way and their own rent, then it would be reasonable to expect a backlash from hard-working tenants who find themselves relegated in the line for BMR homes.

    Rewarding failure and punishing success is not a viable strategy.

    SF has too many homeless because we offer them more money and services than other places. As such, the homeless problem can never be solved by such conventional means because we more we throw resources at them, the more will arrive expecting more of the same.

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