San Francisco Solutions to Homelessness

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.

In the last decade, San Francisco moved more than 9,000 people off the streets through its housing-first strategy. However, those numbers have stagnated in recent times.

Yet according to an SFGate report last Sunday, San Francisco could learn a thing or two from Salt Lake City’s model. The two cities started their 10-year plans to curb homelessness around the same time in 2004 and 2005. Both had roughly the same number of people on the streets long term — 3,000.

Their plan — to create attractive housing that street people actually longed to live in, provide new residents with plenty of on-site counseling to help them with problems such as drug abuse and unemployment, and put one person in charge who could get government and nonprofit agencies to work together — has decreased the number of people who live full time on the streets from 3,000 to 400. Meanwhile, San Francisco is stalled at 2,000.

Dr. Josh Bamberger, UCSF professor and former medial director of housing and urban health for the city’s health department, explained that San Francisco needs to redirect more resources to make a better investment in a housing expansion.

Supportive housing “doesn’t have to be new – it can be beautiful and renovated,” Bamberger said. “But put the highest-end users in it, more than we do now. Make the best use of what we have.”

The goal is to heal people enough so they can move on to productive lives, leaving their supportive housing units to be filled by new residents. In Salt Lake, about 15 percent of the population turns over every year, but in San Francisco that figure is under 5 percent….

In the long run, targeting high-end users saves money. In 2004, the city estimated that each chronically homeless person costs taxpayers $61,000 a year, compared with the $16,000 it costs to put one person into supportive housing.

In another effort to combat homelessness, a new startup called Lava Mae is retrofitting old city buses to provide showers to the homeless. The non-profit raised a fair chunk of change and partnered with the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center to prototype this creative innovation. BoingBoing has more details:

The nonprofit organization raised $58,000 through Indiegogo, and its first bus is a prototype. They are working with community groups in 25 cities around the world, who’ve expressed interest in using the lessons from the pilot program for their own local programs. Locally, they’ve partnered with the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center.

The project’s organizers see showers as a way to provide some dignity and basic hygiene to homeless people, but they also believe that the shower-buses will allow them to establish ongoing relationship with their patrons, helping them find ways to help them further.

Got any ideas or suggestions? Comment below.

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