Nick’s Action Plan on Street Homelessness

Because of bad decisions made at City Hall, thousands sleep on our streets every night. It doesn’t have to be that way. Nick is the only candidate with a real plan that will change the status quo on street homelessness.

San Francisco has the highest rate of street homelessness in the country — more than 4,300 people sleep unsheltered here every night.

But mass street homelessness is not an inevitable consequence of high housing prices, widening inequality, or de-institutionalizing the mentally ill. Cities like New York and Boston have aggressively built the shelter beds they need and now have 10- to 20-times fewer street homeless per capita than San Francisco. Our City Hall, meanwhile, has taken us in the opposite direction and we have fewer shelter beds today than we did in 2004.

It’s time for new leadership and a change of direction. As your Supervisor, I will draw on the best practices from other cities and work to deliver 3,000 new shelter beds, 300 new mental health treatment beds, and deep accountability for the hundreds of millions of dollars City Hall spends on homelessness every year.

It’s time for new leadership and a change of direction. As your Supervisor, I will draw on the best practices from other cities and work to deliver 3,000 new shelter beds, 300 new mental health treatment beds, and deep accountability for the hundreds of millions of dollars City Hall spends on homelessness every year.

City Hall’s failure: How we got here?

In 2004, City Government released its 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. Shelters were defunded to pour money into supportive housing, in the hope that enough units could be built to find a home for all those who were chronically homeless. It was well-intentioned but unfeasible. And it failed.

Over the 10-year plan, the number of homeless didn’t budge. And yet by 2014 there were 33% fewer shelter beds than 10 years earlier and sharply more people experiencing homelessness with nowhere to go but the street. Since 2005, the unsheltered homeless population has increased from 2,655 to 4,353 in 2017.

The City has tried a new approach to shelters called Navigation Centers. These facilities come with more supportive services and fewer rules than traditional shelters, but they also kick most people out after 30 or 60 days and cost twice as much to operate as traditional shelters.

City Government also has not built enough of these centers. With three new ones in the pipeline, San Francisco will still have fewer shelter beds than in 2004 — 686 Navigation Center beds and 1,203 traditional shelter beds for the thousands experiencing homelessness. Even worse, three of the existing Navigation Centers are scheduled to be shut down over the coming two years to make way for new developments, resulting in the loss of 288 beds. Despite an immense and immediate need, City Government’s recently released Five Year Plan to End Homelessness only calls for one new Navigation Center with 65 beds and no new shelters through 2022.

Data-driven solutions to street homelessness

My vision for new shelter facilities includes comprehensive services similar to Navigation Centers that give the homeless the best opportunity to rebuild their lives. But unlike Navigation Centers, they will not be temporary facilities that are already scheduled to be shut down the day they open. They will be designed for folks to live there until they find permanent housing.

Unlike many responses to homelessness, building new shelter facilities is fiscally feasible, coming in at $25,000 per bed. The total buildout cost for 3,000 new shelter beds — if spread out over eight years — would be less than $15 million annually and could be funded by cutting back on programs that have not proven to be cost-effective at getting folks off the street.

Shelters might not be a solution for everyone — especially those suffering from severe mental illness — but there is currently a 1,000-plus waitlist for shelter beds, and homeless outreach workers document that 7 out of 10 folks they contact who are sleeping on the street would prefer to sleep in a shelter.

Unlike many responses to homelessness, building new shelter facilities is fiscally feasible, coming in at $25,000 per bed. The total buildout cost for 3,000 new shelter beds — if spread out over eight years — would be less than $15 million annually and could be funded by cutting back on programs that have not proven to be cost-effective at getting folks off the street.

New York, Boston, and countless other cities have aggressively built shelters and similar facilities for decades, and as a result effectively minimized street homelessness.

New York has an extensive shelter network with over 748 locations that house more than 62,000 individuals and families experiencing homelessness every night. This extensive network means New York has an unsheltered homeless rate of 45 per 100,000 residents. San Francisco’s rate is 492 per 100,000 residents, almost 11 times as high.

Giving people the care they need

Many folks experiencing homelessness and living unsheltered also struggle with mental health issues or addiction, and sometimes both. They are often unable to care for themselves, and some of those experiencing severe mental illness also act out on the street in ways that are threatening to others. We must do more for them. It’s inhumane to leave them to fend for themselves on the streets.

A new state law passed by the Legislature earlier this year would allow San Francisco to come up with its own process for appointing conservators for people who are incapable of caring for themselves. As Supervisor, I will work to put in place the legal framework to allow the City to intervene through conservatorship.

But the legal framework is not enough if we don’t also have the mental health treatment beds. Not only does San Francisco have far fewer psychiatric beds than it needs, there are only 4 beds devoted to those struggling with substance abuse¹. The California Hospital Association estimates that we are hundreds of mental health treatment beds short of what we need. As Supervisor, I will work to deliver 300 additional mental health treatment beds for those who need them most.

Accountability at City Hall

City Hall spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on the homeless population, but it hardly understands where the money goes. City Hall doesn’t track the cost of providing medical services and ambulances, for instance, despite a budget analyst report showing that medical costs are the most significant homeless-related expense². It also doesn’t track the cost to the criminal justice system of homelessness, or the services that they benefit from that are not specifically designed for the homeless like CalFresh (California’s food stamps), CalWORKS, and various state and federal programs for those with disabilities.

There is no way we can work to spend our funds more effectively if we don’t even know how much money we’re spending today. As Supervisor, I will track every dollar we spend on homelessness.

As Supervisor, I will also work to implement performance based-contracting to build into each homeless service provider’s contract an incentive to rebuild lives and get folks off the streets for good.

City Hall also does not know whether the services it provides to the homeless population are working and doesn’t systematically track results. As Supervisor, I will work to adopt a performance-based approach to homeless services. City Hall should be tracking the outcomes of all the services it provides to the homeless so that, for instance, we know what percentage of those going through a particular drug treatment program are still clean six months later. That way we can double down on those programs that are working and cut loose those that aren’t. As Supervisor, I will also work to implement performance based-contracting to build into each homeless service provider’s contract an incentive to rebuild lives and get folks off the streets for good.

We need a new approach

For far too long City Government has made decisions that directly resulted in thousands upon thousands of people sleeping on our streets every night. Responsibility for this failure, ultimately, rests with our elected leaders. Addressing street homelessness must be City Hall’s top priority. We need a new approach. That’s why I’m running for Supervisor, and hope you will Pick Nick this November.



Paid for by Nick Josefowitz for Supervisor 2018. Financial disclosures are available at sfethics.org.