A little more than a year ago, Bevan Dufty took what may be one of the least enviable jobs in San Francisco — working as the point person in City Hall on homelessness.
Among the top 10 complaints in San Francisco, aggressive panhandling and homeless people living on the streets typically rank as high as Muni service. But in speaking with Dufty, you would be hard-pressed to conclude that he has anything but enthusiasm for his job. In a wide-ranging discussion with The San Francisco Examiner about the past and coming years, Dufty expressed frustration at how bureaucracy has stifled some of his projects. But he remains upbeat about what can be done about homelessness and long-term housing for all people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
Dufty’s approach to his new realm began with his title. Instead of calling himself the director of homeless policy, Dufty took the position of director of housing opportunity, partnerships and engagement — HOPE for short. The former supervisor said prior homeless officials have for too long acted like first responders, reacting to complaints about visible homeless people on the streets.
He is taking a longer-term approach meant to focus on the outcomes for individuals and families. If former directors could be considered trauma surgeons, Dufty might be described as a general practitioner who encourages his patients to eat healthier and exercise as well as take any needed medications. Prescribing a single solution to the issue of homelessness is not his style.
After all, San Francisco already pays for many types of housing: shelters, supportive housing, public housing and affordable housing.
The goal is to connect people to the services they need to move, if possible, into more self-sufficient housing, creating room at the bottom for other people in need. Dufty says officials are “not going to address homelessness in San Francisco with shelters alone.”
Dufty’s often-complex answers to questions about San Francisco’s homeless population should be taken as an encouraging sign that he understands the problem’s complexity.
Simply moving homeless people off the streets or out of sight is not his goal, nor should it be The City’s. Instead, his approach includes finding better ways to connect homeless individuals with open shelter beds using the 311 system; setting up a “wet housing” program to provide needed services for inebriates; better use of public housing for homeless people and families; and a refined housing voucher system for individuals, families and homeless veterans.
Although he is not shy about saying when more funding is needed, throwing money at problems is definitely not his sole approach. Nor is the visible outcome of a problem his only goal. He is not interested with clearing out well-known homeless encampments just to beautify an area. Instead, he wants to make sure each of the people living there is given the opportunity to connect with city services that could include housing, substance-abuse services or even a ticket to somewhere where family members are waiting.
Over the past year, Dufty has been working on structural issues that needed improvement in order to properly tackle homelessness and housing in San Francisco.
Although homelessness is still a hot-button issue, outwardly noticeable changes will come under his tenure, just as long as no one is expecting an overnight solution.