Transforming SF: The Future of Homelessness

A discussion of what’s happening on the street level to resolve homelessness. Notes from panel.

Event details:


Jennifer Friedenbach, Executive Director, Coalition on Homelessness
Sam Dodge, SF Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing
Julie Chronister, PhD, CRC, Coordinator, Rehabilitation Counseling Program, San Francisco State University
Don Falk, CEO, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Discussion Notes:

7000 homeless in SF (per latest count)
3000 are children 
Median age — 50s
30% chronic homelessness (1 year+)

SF city budget spent on homelessness = 2.7% of total city budget. SF city budget = $10B. $60M spent on homeless (14,000 people each year, including folks living on the margins, the invisible homeless) + $140M on preventing homelessness.

There’s also charity, but the focus is on social justice (the broader, systemic solution to homelessness). It’s much cheaper to house people than provide services to the homeless.

JF: Homelessness budget sounds like a lot of money, but considering the complexity of services provided, it’s not that major:
1. Emergency services
2. Continued subsidies for the formerly homeless/housed people
3. Placing 2,000 homeless: 1,000 in homes each year, and 1,000 are reconnected with their families
4. Navigation services, community development, economic development work
5. Bureaucracy is an element of course

Most common exit for homeless people who stabilize their life is to reunite and take care of aging parents.

JC: Poverty and lack of resources creates and continues homelessness, esp with mental & health conditions. Trauma is a very common thing. Probability of victimization and trauma in the streets is high, which makes getting out of homelessness difficult.

Affordable housing is necessary, otherwise there’s nowhere to go.

SD: Shelters for single adults and domestic violence victims. 1600 beds total for all populations. Waitlist 1200 people for 90 day shelter stay.

JF: Prop Q passed — city workers can confiscate tents if they can offer at least one night in shelter within 24 hrs. Logistically impossible. It’s a wedge issue, a political tool to draw more conservatives out to the polls. Its focus is on decriminalization. A study found that the result is increased homelessness, and shuffling people from block to block. It’s not a thoughtful way to get people off the streets.

Federal budget for housing was cut by 77%. Federal and state policy are not committed to housing homeless populations.

Vulnerable people get prayed on in various ways.

SG: SF used to have a general assistance program, welfare program which allowed people to make rent. Discontinued by Feinstein.
Free money management service still exists. Odd jobs also exist, recycling.

Social benefits system is difficult to figure out and manage for homeless, esp disabled folks.

Basic income is a desirable solution.
Basic housing should be a right. We must make best use of our resources.

This conversation is surprisingly new, though homelessness has been a problem for decades. Why are we having this conversation just now (and many others like it)?

We have investment in emergency and navigation services, but not the investment on fully resolving homelessness. Need at least 6000 in next 5 years, modular units. $100M cost. The idea has no political will, was blocked by the mayor.

People were disgusted during super bowl, the city spending 100M on hosting the game and forcefully clearing out the homeless pop. This angered a lot of SF residents and created more public awareness around the problem.

DF: Solution to homelessness is housing. Barriers to those solutions are difficult to overcome. Yet, it’s less expensive to our society to provide housing than deal with homelessness the way we currently do. The structure of our politics and values are not aligned to flip this.

Permanent housing. Decades of policymaking discriminated against people of color, contributing majorly to the issue.

It costs SF city $250k per unit to subsidize affordable housing ($500 per unit total for developer). This is the public subsidy necessary for affordable housing investors to make a return. 3 SF nonprofit developers work on this issue: build and operate affordable housing; their work relies on continued subsidy.

SG: SF mentality on homelessness is not tolerant, thinking goes that it’s deserved, we shouldn’t coddle, not my problem approach. Yet we need solutions, we need the will to solve homelessness.

Navigation centers exist, and they are a good approach to doing shelter for longer-term homeless folks. More dignified resource. Allows couples to be together, animals are welcome, some possessions. No curfews, extended stays, services, benefits. It’s meant to be a stepping point out of homelessness, and we want to open more of these.

DF: Tiny homes is a super temporary solution. There’s a village of these in Seattle. We can’t stop here, we obviously still need to invest in a real solution.

The political system currently is not set up to address this problem holistically. The main question to address is: who bears the cost? We have to commit to ending homelessness on national level, not manage a service delivery system that’s currently in place.

Q & A

Q: What successful solutions exist in other states?
A: Utah: 90% decrease of chronic homelessness. Connecticut: star example for states. Housing is a lot less expensive to build there.
NYC has right to housing for families.

Q: People prefer to be homeless in SF rather than be housed somewhere else, where it’s cheaper to live. Why should we bother?
A: Majority of homeless people became homeless here (most of the rest come from nearby in the Bay Area). They have built lives here, they’re rooted here. It’s inhumane to ship them out.
Yet we still do end up housing a lot of people in Stockton/Modesto.
Also, SF does give bus tickets to send people out of town, reuniting with families; this goes for 50% of the homeless population. The other 50% are being sheltered/housed in the current system. We do have to be thoughtful to focus

Note: Homelessness is also a byproduct of a larger economic crisis in our nation. 11M of working people in US spend > 50% of their paycheck on housing.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, Kim-Mai Cutler noted:
Mortgage interest tax deductions are massive subsidies to homebuyers. It doesn’t make sense that our society deems homeless people undeserving of extending help of similar value.

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