Data Provide Insight into Progress with Homelessness

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In a series of articles this year, the View reported that the City’s response to homeless encampments is often reactionary.  For instance, earlier this year District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener requested information about housing and the homeless from the Mayor’s Office, and demanded removal of Division Street encampments, with the occupants provided with a reasonable chance for shelter and housing.  Wiener’s questions weren’t answered until the Division Street campers were rousted, their possessions thrown away, illegally, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.  It appeared that most of the inhabitants simply relocated their tents to nearby roads and alleys.

The City recently demonstrated a more thoughtful approach in negotiations with the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association to remove an Islais Creek encampment and site a Navigation Center on 25th Street.  This more considered method followed initially fierce opposition by Dogpatch residents to the center.    

The new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, and its Encampment Resolution Team, may emerge as an effective vehicle to work with neighborhoods and encampments, if there’s enough housing and shelter to give people a real opportunity to move from the streets.  Without adequate alternatives, the City will repeat the Division Street experience, shifting people from one rough camp to another, accomplishing little and greatly increasing the suffering of individuals living on the avenues.

San Francisco has a three-pronged homelessness strategy:  provide, particularly supportive, housing; offer shelters, including Navigation and treatment centers, as well as other forms of interim accommodations; and distribute bus tickets out of town.  The City has pursued this approach for a longtime.  It’s gotten thousands of people off the streets, but the homeless population hasn’t changed significantly for 30 years, which prompts the question as to whether the City is pursuing the right strategy or doing enough to reduce the number of people living on the streets.

It’s for these reasons that last month the View launched an effort to track a set of metrics related to homelessness, and is providing this information to SFGate and other media outlets as part of the SF Homeless Project.  These data, over time, are intended to enable readers to gauge whether or not the City is making progress housing, sheltering, or transporting the homeless elsewhere.  The View hopes that this information will provide a basis for government officials and citizens to have honest discussions about municipal efforts to humanely and effectively deal with the people living on the streets.