San Francisco has 17 percent more unhoused people on a given night compared to two years ago. The number? A disappointing 8,011 people.
That’s according to one-night, point-in-time count data released by the city Thursday afternoon. The report was a blow to city officials who have taken on homelessness as a central issue, spending $300 million a year to whittle away at 2017’s count of 6,858 unhoused individuals.
“I will tell you, when I first got the numbers I was like, ‘No way, I don’t believe this,’” said Jeff Kositsky, the director of the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. “I feel like we made a lot of progress.”
The last two years have seen a slew of initiatives, including a “coordinated entry system” that tracks homeless people as they receive services, including supportive housing. The last several years have also seen tent encampment “resolutions” that lure people out of tents into the service-oriented shelters called Navigation Centers, as well as the Health Streets Operations Center, a San Francisco Police Department-led unit that responds to homeless calls.
Still, the city reported that the largest increase in homeless individuals — 68 percent — was driven by people living in their vehicles. In November, the city undertook a concerted effort to disperse people living in their vehicles.
“I don’t know or care how many are Uber drivers,” Kositsky said. “If they’re sleeping in their cars, they’re sleeping in their cars.”
Thursday’s tally was reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on April 30. More comprehensive San Francisco numbers are expected to be released in July. The forthcoming count may well dwarf Thursday’s 8,011, which doesn’t take into account people living in jails, hospitals, and mental health treatment centers.
More positively, veteran homelessness is down 14 percent, and youth homelessness youth is down 10 percent. There has also been a 48 percent reduction in unaccompanied children under the age of 18 and a 7 percent reduction in transitional-aged youth. Family homelessness, meanwhile, remained flat.
In a press release, Mayor London Breed emphasized that the city needs to be more proactive.
“As we continue to look at the data,” she said, “we will focus more investments, but right now the data shows we need to prioritize investments to keep people stable and prevent them becoming homeless in the first place.”
Kelley Cutler, a human rights organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, said the count was not surprising. She said the shelter waitlist has been on an upward trend in recent years. Today, she said, it was 1,270.
She said the reasons for the rise are numerous and complex, but emphasized: “This is a reflection of the current housing crisis.”
While disheartened by the tally, Kositsky did not dispute it.
“This is why data is important, because when we started to unpack the numbers, it made total sense,” he said. “We looked for crazy anomalies, and we didn’t see anything like that. … I drive around the city, and I have eyes like everyone else. And I can see that, shit, this isn’t looking good.”