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Latest SF homeless count shows slight decrease, larger trend points upward

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The Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Survey was conducted on a single night in January to assess rate of homelessness in The City. (Cindy Chew/2008 S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco will announce today a 1 percent decrease in the number of homeless residents since 2015 — bringing the total population to 7,499 people — but a four-year trend shows a 2 percent increase.

The release of the Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Survey, which was conducted on a single night in January, comes at a time when homelessness has become one of the most pressing issues at City Hall. The count includes people of all ages living on the streets, in shelters, persons “doubled-up” in the homes of family or friends, in jails, in hospitals, in rehabilitation facilities and families in single-room occupancy hotels.

The results are expected to be released during a news conference today by Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

The data also includes a new youth count that The City began conducting in 2013.

“The general Point-in-Time Count efforts cover the entire city, but the supplemental youth count efforts focus in on specific neighborhoods of San Francisco where unaccompanied children and youth are known to congregate,” reads the 2017 survey results.

In 2013, the total count of homeless people including youth was 7,350. That number increased to 7,539 in 2015.

This year’s count of 7,499 homeless people is a slight decrease of 40 homeless residents from the 2015 count, if the youth count is included. Of those counted in 2017, 58 percent — or 4,353 people — were unsheltered, meaning they were living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in cars or in encampments.

Ultimately, the overall takeaway depends on how the data is parsed.

One noticeable decrease is with the segment of homeless youth under 25. In 2015, the homeless count identified 1,569 unaccompanied children and transitional aged youth in both the general and youth counts. That number decreased to 1,363 in 2017.

The 2017 homeless count reports a general count of 6,986 homeless people and youth count of 513. In 2015, there was a general count of 6,686 homeless people and 853 identified in the youth count.

Over the years, San Francisco’s homeless population has remained relatively consistent, even as The City continues to increase investment in homeless services. In the past two years, The City said it placed 3,481 formerly homeless residents in supportive housing, paid for them take buses home to live with family or were re-housed with rental subsidies.

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents areas including the Mission, said the results for her district were “not at all surprising to me.”

Ronen said the latest overall tally shows “stability” citywide with numbers but marked increases in certain districts, like her own. In District 9, 510 homeless residents were counted, of which 281 were deemed unsheltered; in 2015, there were 248 unsheltered homeless people out of a total of 410.

To address the growing need, Ronen pointed to the new Navigation Center she’s worked to open later this month at 1515 South Van Ness Ave., which will remain open for the next nine months.

Between 2015 and 2017, some marked increases in certain segments of the homeless population stood out.

In 2015, there were 1,803 chronically homeless residents, which increased to 2,181 in 2017. Chronic homelessness is defined as those who have experienced homelessness for more than one year or at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

Veterans who were homeless increased from 598 in the 2015, to 744 in the 2017.

Similar to the count in 2015 — and seemingly debunking the myth that most homeless people are from out of town — 69 percent in 2017 reported living in San
Francisco at the time they became homeless, of which 55 percent were living in The City for 10 years or more.

Those living on the street also appear sicker than two years ago. Forty-one percent reported suffering from substance abuse in this year’s count, compared to 37 percent in 2015, and 39 percent reported psychiatric conditions compared to 35 percent in 2015.

The release of the homeless count data comes as the homeless department’s two-year budget proposal is set to go before the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee for review Friday as part of the committee’s ongoing review of Mayor Ed Lee’s overall $10.1 billion budget proposal.

The mayor’s budget proposal increases spending on homeless services next fiscal year from $275 million to $305 million for such things as supportive housing, Navigation Centers, outreach, rental subsidies and a new 24/7 drop-in resource center.

A portion of the homeless population is living in tent encampments, which has become one of the thorniest issues facing City Hall. Earlier this month, the homeless department said it has cleared 11 sites since August, but encampments have since reappeared at three of the areas.

Emergency 911 calls reporting homeless persons having doubled in the past three years, and resident complaints persist about those living in tents on sidewalks, according to city officials.

Of the combined 400 people living in those encampments, 29 percent refused options like shelter and moved on. For those who did accept offers of shelter, such as at Navigation Centers, it is unclear how long they remained in a shelter bed or were housed.

The marginal change in homelessness in The City is contrast to the dramatic increase of homeless people reported recently in other California counties.

Los Angeles County’s recent count, for instance, showed a 23 percent increase in its homeless population. Alameda County’s homeless population increased by 39 percent during the past two years, growing from 4,040 to 5,629.

Earlier this month, Sam Dodge, deputy director of the homeless department, said, “There’s really no good PIT count number. If it goes down by margins it’s still meaning thousands of people at any one time are experiencing extreme deprivation and homelessness. It’s a sobering reminder of the work we have left to do.”

Meanwhile, the Budget Justice Coalition, a collection of nonprofits helping homeless and low-income residents, are calling on the board’s budget committee to comb through the mayor’s budget proposal and make cuts to find tens of millions of dollars to fund other spending priorities to increase services including rental subsidies, eviction prevention, supportive housing for the formerly homeless and the “Getting to Zero” HIV infections initiative.

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