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Homeless czar argues for spending increase to advance SF beyond the ‘status quo’

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A Community Ambassador, right, speaks with a homeless man named “Al” about the status of his housing process at an encampment near 16th and Shotwell streets on Monday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco could restore hundreds of beds for outreach street teams to temporarily shelter the most vulnerable living on the streets as part of the homeless department’s more than $200 million budget proposal.

There were 330 beds for placements across a number of single-room occupancy hotels in 2004, but those dwindled to just 65 in 2016 because of lawsuits and property conditions, among other reasons.

That stark realization came to light at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting last year, and is part of the reason The City is now looking to restore those units.

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Such an effort is just one of the spending increases proposed by Jeff Kositsky, director of the recently created Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, in his budget submission to Mayor Ed Lee.

There’s also a proposed new family shelter facility, a “resource center that offers respite to people living on the streets, with showers, bathrooms and sandwiches; and a new database tracking system to coordinate services,” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Without significant new funding, HSH is unable to propose the scale of investments needed to make demonstrable progress towards reducing homelessness in San Francisco,” Kositsky said in his Feb. 21 budget memo to the mayor, which was obtained by the San Francisco Examiner on Monday.

City departments had to submit proposed budgets to the Mayor’s Office by Feb. 21. The mayor will submit a proposed city budget to the Board of Supervisors for review on June 1.

The mayor directed city departments to propose budgets with 3 percent cuts, but Kositsky is getting a pass due to the priority that homelessness is taking at City Hall. He has set a baseline spending of $209 million, which is the amount in the current fiscal year.

But Kositsky has requested spending an additional $16.5 million, of which $7.1 million is general fund dollars, for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The funding increase in the subsequent fiscal year — The City operates on a two-year budget — is proposed at $21.6 million, of which $12.5 million is general fund dollars.

The proposed spending increase is “the minimum investment needed to maintain the status quo and make some advancements toward addressing street homelessness,” Kositsky said.

Heading into budget season, the homeless department is expected to release by April a strategic plan detailing the needed number of shelter beds and housing along with other resources to reduce homelessness, which would lead to a major re-envisioning of the current system over the long-term.

One of the department’s largest funding increases proposed next fiscal year is for coordination of services with a new database for $4.7 million, of which $2.2 million is for a “Coordinated Entry and the Online Navigation and Entry System.”

This system has two main objectives of “redesigning services” to make them more effective and to create a “unified data system to provide comprehensive client information and enable The City and service providers to track its progress toward achieving outcomes.”

The proposed funding increase will also expand the shelter system. “HSH proposes additional General Fund support to provide ongoing funding for inclement weather shelter ($200,000), and expand shelter capacity (by 30 beds) for families experiencing homelessness ($950,000),” the memo said.

Another spending increase is $2.5 million for a total of $5 million in the second year to operate the planned 140-bed South of Market Navigation Center.

“It is important to note that HSH estimates that even with this expansion, The City will still need at least 1,000 more temporary beds (at navigation centers and shelters) to eliminate the nightly waitlist for emergency shelter,” the memo said.

There are an estimated 4,500 homeless persons living on the streets and 1,400 single adult shelter beds. About 800 housing units to house the homeless become free annually through turnover. As many as 18,000 homeless individuals have some contact with city services annually.

The proposal also includes spending $2 million next fiscal year alone for “a 24/7 resource center where people can access restroom facilities, take showers, receive services, and enroll in benefit programs.” No location has yet been identified.

“San Francisco continues to have insufficient shelter and housing resources to meet the needs of its unsheltered population,” the memo said about the need for the resource center. “In FY 2017-18, HSH proposes funding strategies to provide street respite and service connection to people living on the street.”

Meanwhile, the Homeless Emergency Service Providers Association, a group of 32 nonprofits providing homeless services, is asking the mayor to add an additional $9.3 million in the first fiscal year for such things as more rental subsidies, a grievance procedure for Navigation Center users and a “full service shelter in the Bayview.”

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