New plan says SF could end family homelessness by 2020

There are more than 3,200 homeless children in San Francisco, according to a new estimate by the Coalition on Homelessness.

But the nonprofit claims family homelessness could end within five years under its proposed strategy — which would cost The City $9 million annually by 2020.

The five-year plan, outlined in the coalition’s June 2 report titled “The Roadmap,” promises to house 2,433 homeless families in five years. There are currently an estimated 1,989 homeless families with 3,222 children living in locations like hotels, cars, abandoned buildings and parks, the report says.

“Our goals are ambitious, but they are achievable,” the report maintains. “This city can house every child who is currently homeless.”

How to do that would take six steps, toward which The City would need to increase funding each year until it reaches $9 million annually in 2020, the plan says.

The largest share of the funding, under the plan, would go toward below market rate subsidies. The mayor already has a goal to build or rehabilitate 30,000 housing units by 2020, which includes 199 units for homeless persons, of which it is unknown how many would be for families. The plan calls for increasing the 199 units for homeless by 375 units for homeless families.

Other steps include moving more than 500 families into public housing units and prioritizing vacated below-market rate units in nonprofit developments for homeless persons to move in, with The City helping to pay the rental costs. Another measure calls for funding partial rent payments for 12–18 months to give families a chance to regain financial footing to remain housed.

“We’ve figured out exactly how The City can solve family homelessness,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, adding “if there is the political will to do it.”

Mayor Ed Lee has not adopted the report, despite being briefed on it on May 29, and has not fully funded it in his two-year budget proposal submitted June 1 to the Board of Supervisors for review.

During his budget address, the mayor said he would end “chronic veterans’ homelessness” this year. He continued: “Now is the time to take on the challenge of ending family homelessness. With a strong partnership between the City, the community and philanthropy, I know together we can rise to the challenge and end family homelessness.”

Exactly how the mayor plans to do that is being worked on. The mayor hasn’t adopted the coalition’s plan “at this stage,” said the mayor’s homeless czar Bevan Dufty but there are meetings taking place to discuss “what’s the funding, what’s the policy changes, what’s the timetable” to address the issue.

Dufty said the mayor has allocated $520,000 in each of the next two fiscal years in rental subsidies, though that falls short of the plan’s about $1 million next fiscal year, increasing to a total of $4.1 million in the second year. Dufty also said that the mayor has allocated $100,000 in the budget for staff time or an outside consultant “for planning purposes around family homelessness.”

It is difficult to know exactly how many families are homeless in San Francisco for a variety of reasons. The San Francisco Unified School District tracks homeless student enrollment, which in 2013-2014 was 2,352, according to the report. That only includes youth in grades kindergarten through 12, leaving those aged 0 to 5 accounted for. The report estimates there are 870 homeless youth between the ages of 0 and 5. Throughout the nation homeless families have increased in recent years. In San Francisco, there were 1,213 homeless students in the public school system, comprising an estimated 748 families.

“For families seeking shelter, the number has risen 179 percent since 2007, which has translated into longer waits and more competition for housing units,” the report said.

Supervisor Mark Farrell is chair of the Board of Supervisor Budget and Finance Committee, which is currently reviewing the mayor’s $8.9 billion proposed city budget. Farrell said he is currently studying the plan. “Ending family homelessness has to be a major priority in our city, and I’m thrilled the dialogue is coming to the forefront,” Farrell said.

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