The HSOC tent tally from left, April 2019, July 2020, and October 2020. Click image for larger version.

Homeless tent tally in District 5 drops below pre-pandemic level; hundreds still counted in Districts 6, 10

Count of homeless people living in vehicles nearly doubles in one year

The city’s quarterly count of tents on the streets of San Francisco earlier this month revealed a sharp drop from levels recorded at the height of the pandemic. 

The count, undertaken throughout the city on Oct. 7 and 8, tallied 703 tents and 28 sites with six or more tents. That’s down from 1,108 tents counted in April 2020, along with 66 sites with six tents or more. In July 2020, 1,003 tents were recorded, as well as 59 large encampments. 

“The numbers are definitely getting better, but it’s not close to good enough,” said Jeff Kositsky, the manager of the city’s Healthy Streets Operations Center (HSOC). “This is a step in what will be a long process of improving conditions on the street during the pandemic.” 

The data stretches back to July 2018, when 568 tents were counted. The numbers reached a low point in January 2019, when 341 tents and two large encampments were recorded citywide. Those numbers increased throughout 2019. By January 2020, on the cusp of the pandemic, 641 tents were counted, as well as 19 sites with six or more tents. 

The quarterly count of each supervisorial district  is undertaken by workers from the departments that comprise Healthy Streets: the San Francisco Police Department’s homeless outreach officers, the Homeless Outreach Team, the California Highway Patrol, the Port of San Francisco, the Recreation and Park Department, and the National Park Service. 

In the early days of the city’s shelter-in-place order, some 1,800 beds from homeless shelters were lost as shelter residents were pushed out. Homeward Bound, a program that provided San Francisco homeless people with bus tickets so they could reside with friends or relatives elsewhere, has slowed from providing rides to 50 or more people a month to just one or two.

Not surprisingly, the numbers of people counted dwelling on the streets soared.  

The HSOC tent tally from left, April 2019, July 2020, and October 2020. Click image for larger version.

Since June 10, Kositsky said, some 1,000 people have been moved off the street into reopened shelters, safe sleeping villages, medical facilities, or shelter-in-place hotels (which will cease accepting new residents in November). 

The most dramatic spike — and subsequent reduction — took place in District 5, the Haight. Recorded homeless tent numbers went up and down like a roller coaster; they skyrocketed during the summer, but have actually now dropped below pre-pandemic levels. 

In October 2020, HSOC counted 31 tents in District 5, with no encampments of six tents or more. That’s a precipitous drop from the 156 tents and 12 large encampments recorded in July 2020, or the 85 tents and five large encampments counted in April 2020. 

In April 2019, 42 tents were counted in District 5. 

The largest numbers of tents are found in District 6, home of SoMa and the Tenderloin.

The Oct. 2020 count tallied 299 tents and 15 large sites of six or more tents. That’s down from 515 tents and 32 large sites in April 2020, but still higher than the 121 tents and just three large sites counted in April 2019. 

Here in the Mission, 73 tents and one large encampment were counted in October, 2020. In July, 138 tents and eight large sites were tallied, and in April, it was a similar 133 tents and seven large sites. In Oct. 2019, HSOC workers counted 76 tents and one large encampment — a near-exact tally to the present one. 

While homeless tent numbers are receding citywide, the number of vehicles serving as homes continues to climb: the October 2020 tally of 1,355 is nearly double the Oct. 2019 count of 719. 

This precipitous rise is taking place largely in Bayview. In the Oct. 2020 count, a jaw-dropping 866 vehicles were recorded in District 10. That’s up from 322 in Oct. 2019. 

In District 9, the Oct. 2020 count recorded 114 vehicles. That’s less than the Jan. 2020 number (129), but far higher than the April 2019 count (16). 

The numbers all made intuitive sense to Joe Wilson, the executive director of Hospitality House, a Tenderloin shelter and community organization. 

“According to their figures, a significant number of people have moved inside. But a significant number of people have not,” he said. “More people may be using a vehicle. People may have left San Francisco,  or they may be sleeping outside without a tent, during a pandemic. Which is unwise. For all of us.” 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. Joe,

    Will be interested to see the next tally. Went on a long run last night and there has been a clear spike in homeless encampments throughout the mission industrial zone over the past 1-2 weeks. Likely due to emptying of hotel program

  2. Even this report says that tents are up 29% this year in D5.

    And only 31 tents in all of D5? There are 7 on just one block of Waller, between Stanyan and Shrader.

  3. Tent encampment down in District 5,
    Has anyone walked about and actually seen what’s out there.
    People aren’t idiots and this must be an ELECTION ploy by Preston, saying tents are down in D5. NEWS flash No there Not. Residents are living in fear and the Homeless are the new protected class.
    Here’s a thought, Start enforcing the laws on the books and prosecute, there are consequences to bad behaviour..No camping on city streets or parks to begin with..
    There is plenty of tents in D5.

    1. Dear sir — 

      Dean Preston doesn’t run the HSOC, which is headquartered in the mayor’s office.

      The mayor isn’t faking progress in D5 so Dean Preston will beat her favored candidate Vallie Brown.

      People aren’t idiots, you know.


      1. Joe, an Upper Haight resident was attacked and beaten yesterday at 6am at Waller and Shrader by a sidewalk camper. Totally unprovoked. First the sidewalk camper’s dog attacked the resident’s dog, and then the sidewalk camper attacked the resident. Dean wouldn’t even call the victim back. People in the ‘hood posted about sketchy people moving into the campsite at Waller and Shrader about ten days ago. But did Dean do anything? Nope. If you can even get a response from Dean about tents he just says email Kositsky. But it’s Dean’s job to talk to Kositsky for us. Dean’s useless.

  4. Joe,

    would be interesting to see current numbers. Homeless hotel program is coming to an end and emptying out. Over the last week there has been an explosion of tents in Mission industrial zone. Prior to the last week I would have to agree things were definitely looking better.

  5. Jeff kositsky makes…………………………………… Total pay & benefits:$296,234.72
    According to transparent ca. Lots of mo ey to be made dealing with homeless people.

    1. It’s due to sweeps resuming as directed by the mayor’s office and facilitated by Mandelman, et al. Destroying tents and warm clothing doesn’t make them go away, just more desperate with limited options.