San Diego Appears to Shelter More Homeless Faster, and at Lower Cost, than San Francisco

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Last fall, the late Mayor Ed Lee announced that this winter San Francisco would help an additional 1,000 homeless people secure shelter.  However, according to Jeff Kositsky, head of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, as of last month only about one-fifth of the hoped-for extra spots in the City had been created. Kositsky explained that another 411 beds are in the works, including at a new Navigation Center slated for Fifth and Bryant streets. 

“Our department has been working tirelessly to meet this challenge, and have already placed about 200 people through new programs and projects that did not exist prior to Mayor Lee’s challenge,” said Randolph Quezada, DHSH spokesperson.

Existing facilities at 1515 South Van Ness and 1950 Mission Street are expected to close by this summer. If no additional capacity is created before then there’ll be a net gain of just 150 shelter beds in San Francisco.

Frustration over the lack of progress to address homelessness was evident at the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee meeting last month, at which District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy questioned Kositsky about whether it “…made sense to uproot people from their communities, even if they’re tents on the streets, for a short period of time and then dump them back on the streets, where they have to start all over again…”

In response, Kositsky stated that “…most encampments are awful places…” in which “four out of five women report being victims of sexual abuse.”   

Other communities have been able to enlarge their shelter capacity faster than San Francisco. Prompted by a Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego last summer, 700 additional beds were made available within six months.  During a February visit to San Diego, the View came across an individual relaxing and reading a book in their newly installed shelter bed, their belongings securely stored underneath. A similar scene had previously been spotted in San Francisco: a woman sitting on the sidewalk with her legs stretched out reading a book, in this case in front of three makeshift tents located on a busy corner near an overpass.

San Diego had been preparing to expand its bed capacity even before the Hepatitis outbreak.  But that city’s model appears to be nimbler than San Francisco’s, principally relying on large tents and bathroom trucks in contrast to the Navigation Center approach, which typically requires semi-permanent construction.  This may also be one of the reasons that San Diego’s temporary shelters cost less than half of San Francisco’s, $43 per resident per day compared to $90 per resident a day.