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San Francisco homeless population remains stagnant despite city spending

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Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner
11 year old Julius Barnes and his mother 52 year old Stephanie Stinson are staying in the Hamilton Family center located in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood while searching for an affordable place to call home.

Despite more than doubling supportive housing units during the past seven years for single adults living on the streets and quadrupling spending on their services to nearly $40 million a year, San Francisco’s homeless population remains high, according to a city controller’s audit released Thursday afternoon.

However, city officials insist programs are effective and blamed a variety of factors for the persistence of the homeless problem, such as the bad economy.

San Francisco’s philosophy is that if housing units are provided for those once living on the streets, along with services such as drug treatment, then it can reduce homelessness. Human Services Agency Director Trent Rhorer said numerous studies prove supportive housing is the most cost-effective way of dealing with a homeless population.

Rhorer said supportive housing has resulted in providing accommodations for 8,500 people since 2004.

“Think what the homeless population would look like if we didn’t do anything,” Rhorer said.

Overall, San Francisco had a homeless ratio last year of 723 out of 100,000 residents, higher than other major cities such as New York with 651 and Chicago with 231, according to the audit.

In fiscal year 2003-04, there were 1,595 supportive housing units for single adults, which increased 135 percent in seven years for a total of 3,741. Another 660 units are planned during the next three years. During the same seven-year period, The City’s spending on supportive housing programs increased by 373 percent, from $8.1 million to $38.3 million. In three years, spending will increase to $48.6 million.

But despite the expansion of those programs, the audit said The City’s homeless population has remained relatively steady since 2000, ranging between 4,550 and 7,542 and averaging 5,383.

City officials and homeless advocates list an array of reasons why, among them reductions in federal funding, a high unemployment rate and the mortgage crisis.

“A lot of folks are homeless for the first time,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

The audit said The City should continue the spending and also build more supportive housing. It also recommended seeking funding outside the operating budget to improve the process for people moving to permanent housing.

“It’s spending we should be proud of,” Friedenbach said.

When asked if the method is working, she said, “Of course it’s working for the people in housing.”


Support services

1,595 Single adult supportive homeless units in fiscal year 2003-04
3,741 Single adult supportive homeless units in fiscal year 2010-11
4,841 Single adult homeless counted in 2000
4,691 Single adult homeless counted in 2011
5,383 Average number of homeless counted 2000-11
$8.1M Amount city spent on the supportive housing program and services in FY 2003-04
$38.3M Amount city spent on supportive housing program and services, FY 2010-11

Source: City Controller’s Office

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