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San Francisco to tackle youth, family homelessness by 2023

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(Courtesy DHSH)

The City’s Department on Homeless and Supportive Housing plans to reduce youth homelessness by half and end family homelessness completely in the next five years, but services for the City’s vulnerable young and elderly homeless residents remain inadequate.

San Francisco currently has just about 500 housing units dedicated to the more than 1,300 young people who are counted as homeless on any given night, while adults over 60 are reported to be the fastest growing population in homeless shelters across the City.

“An interesting trend we are seeing with family homelessness over last couple of years [is] larger family units… grandparents, older aunts and uncles are joining the family unit in shelters,” said Ralph Payton, Executive Director of the Raphael House, speaking at a roundtable discussion with service providers and the homeless department on Wednesday. “We are seeing an increase in older individuals in the family shelter system as well.”

DHSH Director Jeff Kositsky said that he would like to see special shelters opened for both populations in San Francisco, but funding remains an issue.

“I would like to see us open a Navigation Center just for seniors,” said Kositsky, referring to a low-barrier homeless shelter that admits clients along with their pets, partners and some belongings.

Likewise, the construction of a shelter specifically serving transitional age youth by the end of 2018 was mandated by a 2016 city ordinance, but remains a promise unfulfilled. Proposition D, which sought to increase The City’s tax on commercial rents by 1.7 percent for housing and homeless services, would have earmarked some $3.5 million in funding for the center, but was voted down in the June 5 election.

Kositsky said his department is currently working with the mayor’s budget office to find “other funding sources to be able to fill those gaps.”

Sherilyn Adams, Executive Director of Larkin Street Youth Services, said that the nonprofit currently operates “one shelter for young people and some emergency housing supports.”

According to Adams, 50 percent of The City’s chronically homeless adults first experienced homelessness between the ages of 18 and 24.

“We definitely need indoor daytime spaces and a Navigation Center for young people,” said Adams, adding that young homeless residents are particularly hard to serve because they are often “invisible in their homelessness in ways that chronically homeless adults are not,” resulting in a historical “underinvestment in the needs of young people experiencing homeless” in the City and across the state.

“They are staying on buses all night, in cafes, they are making unimaginable trade offs in order to go inside at different times,” she said.

When support and investment is given to housing marginalized youth, it has proven successful. A reduction in youth homelessness between 2013 and 2017 coincided with increased investments, according to Adams.

Kositsky reported additional successes as The City is inching toward the gradual implementation of a coordinated care system, called Coordinated Entry, that aims to streamline the services of the City’s various departments and service providers and to better track outcomes of homeless clients.

Since the department’s launch in 2016, San Francisco has seen a 13 percent reduction in youth homelessness, a 12 percent reduction in family homelessness and a 30 percent reduction in chronic homelessness among veterans, he said.

Moreover, the department has resolved 32 large tent encampments “that had nearly 1,300 people in them,” with over two-thirds of those individuals “[ending] up in shelter.” Kositsky said that the department will likely meet its goal of removing all large tent encampment of six or more tents from The City’s streets a year ahead of its projected December 2019 goal.

The challenge remains ensuring permanent exits to homelessness through housing for clients in the City’s system, as well as preventing new incidents of homelessness.

While DHS and it’s nonprofit partners help “about 50 people exit homeless” each week, there are about “150 newly homeless people are in our City” in the same time frame, according to Kositsky. A majority of that group “were living in San Francisco before,” while about 31 percent come from other counties, he said.

“It’s a significant issue,” said Kositsky, adding that his department has, along with other initiatives, shifted its focus to prevention and diversion efforts, such as connecting people to friends and family members and eviction prevention.

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