San Francisco’s $1.3 billion for housing/other homelessness services has garnered headlines across the country. $800 million in funds from the Proposition C tax (current year’s tax receipts plus funds in escrow during litigation) significantly increased this two-year budget allocation. The City will provide more services ranging from permanent housing, shelter, mental health treatment beds, and homelessness prevention. The budget projects that these programs will assist between 11,000 and 12,000 individuals.
How will this budget be spent? The final budget wrapped up late Tuesday, June 29 — with final figures not yet available. As we go to press, the budget is slated to be approved by the Board of Supervisors on July 13.
Here’s a high-level overview using the City budget figures as of June 2. Proposition C mandates strict funding allocations: 50% to housing, 25% to mental health, 12% to prevention, and 10% to shelter and hygiene, with the remainder to administration. What are the amounts and how much do they buy? The Homelessness Prevention program (proposed at $194M) serves the greatest number. It targets to prevent an estimated 8,000 individuals/families from falling into homelessness. The permanent housing programs (proposed at $681M) are projected to provide 2,725 beds. Mental Health Services’ allocation of $340M provides an estimated 337 treatment beds. Shelter & Hygiene with proposed $137M pays for existing shelter and funds 653 new shelter beds (ranging from Navigation Centers to Safe Sleep/Safe Park sites.) The final figures may vary – as the budget negotiations shifted the amounts/numbers.
How do people become homeless? San Francisco’s most recent Point-in-Time Count (January 2019) included a survey which asked 1,045 individuals the primary cause of their homelessness:
- Over one-quarter (26%) of respondents identified job loss
- Eighteen percent (18%) reported drugs or alcohol
- Thirteen percent (13%) identified eviction
- 12% reported an argument with a friend or family member who asked them to leave
- 8% cited mental health issues
What will homelessness in our City look like in two years? Homelessness Prevention (projected to keep 8,000 housed) has the greatest potential to significantly reduce the number of newly homeless. When the housing funds deliver their projected 2,725 beds, they will be prioritized to house the 1500 people still in the Shelter-in-Place (SIP) hotels. This leaves 1200 beds for those unhoused on the streets. Add to that the 1000 shelter and treatment beds, and SF will have approximately 2200 placements for those on the streets. Conservatively, San Francisco has 5,800 unhoused people living on our streets. (Based on the last official count in 2019 of 8,000 homeless — minus the 2200 placed in the SIP hotel program during 2020.)
Net/net: we are investing in permanent solutions. Yet, we still do not have enough housing or shelter for those on our streets. To close this gap, we need more interim shelter capacity over the coming years while the City ramps up its housing programs. (Based on the progress in placing the SIP hotel occupants – which started in November 2020 and is now projected to end in early 2022 – the City may not achieve its two-year goals.) Interim shelter is the stop-gap and can be increased relatively quickly via expanding indoor shelter capacity, use of small cabins, or more efficient/effective safe sleep/parking programs.
Let’s not continue to use our sidewalks as the waiting line for permanent housing. We are simply allowing more people to fall into chronic homelessness. Being chronically homeless means individuals have more health vulnerabilities that require more services and, tragically, that more people will be dying on our streets.
The 2021 CityBeat Poll (conducted by Dignity Health and the SF Chamber of Commerce) provides a current view of SF voters’ opinions. It documents that we and our neighbors are very concerned about homelessness, crime, and quality of life issues.
- Homelessness is the top issue: with 65% of those responding rating it the top issue and 71% of respondents saying it’s gotten much worse over the past year
- 70% say Quality of Life has gotten worse over the past year
- 46% are concerned about public safety and crime – with voters supporting academy classes and community-based policing
- Also voters responded to specific questions about homelessness services – giving a high priority to these programs:
- 80%: expanding conservatorships for mentally ill individuals
- 74%: providing more temporary shelter for homeless individuals