The man who has led San Francisco’s effort to stem homelessness since 2016 will step down later this month.
Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, announced Thursday that he would no longer lead the department — but he isn’t going far.
Mayor London Breed has tapped Kositsky to manage The City’s Healthy Streets Operation Center, a controversial group that launched in 2018 and convenes myriad agencies — the San Francisco Police Department, Public Works, and the Department of Homelessness, among others — to pool their knowledge and resources to heal troubled homelessness hotspots.
Kositsky was appointed to the newly created Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing by Mayor Ed Lee in early 2016. Kositsky came into the role with more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, including as executive director of the Hamilton Family Center and also Community Housing Partnership, a nonprofit affordable housing developer.
His new role will have him directly working with unhoused people on San Francisco’s streets.
“I want to be successful for everybody, housed and unhoused people,” Kositsky told me Thursday.
Accomplishing that won’t be an easy task.
The Healthy Streets Operation Center, also known as HSOC, has come under fire from homeless advocates for essentially acting as an arm of the police to shuffle around people who live on the streets.
Like a citywide game of whack-a-mole, HSOC has mostly responded to 311 calls complaining about homelessness, to mixed results.
Following the complaints of housed people instead of addressing the root causes of homelessness may have actually led to worse outcomes, officials said in a public meeting this week.
That’s why Kositsky will take HSOC back to basics, he told me, focusing on helping people who are unhoused. HSOC will shift to focusing on helping neighborhoods where there’s more of a significant presence of unhoused people to connect them with services.
But that will also alleviate the concerns of housed people who make complaints, Kositsky said. Because when homeless people are helped, they won’t be on the streets prompting complaints.
“If we start blindly following 311 calls, no one is helped,” Kositsky said. But, “the best way to solve everybody’s problem is to solve the unhoused person’s problem.”
That client-focused approach worked in 2018 when HSOC first launched, data the San Francisco Examiner previously reported on shows.
Of the 650 clients placed into HSOC shelter beds, 619 (95.2 percent) returned to the street in 2019, based on HSH data — that was when HSOC followed 311 calls, principally. But in 2018, just 58 percent of HSOC-placed clients returned to the streets, according to the department’s report to the Local Homeless Coordinating Board last week.
HSOC will even be more accountable to the public, as one of Kositsky’s first tasks will be establishing a community oversight body for HSOC, which will include a homeless advocate, a business community member, a tourism industry member and others.
For more details on how HSOC is set to transform, I suggest you read my colleague’s news story from earlier this week.
The gist is, putting unhoused people first helps everyone — even neighbors and merchants complaining to 311.
“I felt in 2018 we were leading the way for the rest of the country” on homelessness, Kositsky told me.
Kositsky’s record helming the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing shows homelessness ended for 7,000 households, outreach provided to more than 40,000 people, and expanded shelter beds. But still, the tide of homelessness continues in a city plagued by stark economic inequality. Addressing that at the street level is Kositsky’s new challenge.
To take the gig, Kositsky will even take a pay cut, because he will be effectively accepting a position two steps lower in The City’s totem pole.
“I’m taking a significant pay cut because I’m not in this work for the money,” Kositsky said. “I’m in it to help anywhere I can help.”
Kositsky transitions to his new role as HSOC manager on March 23. Abigail Stewart-Kahn, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s director of strategic external affairs, will take over as interim director of the department.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.