Citywide efforts seek to end family homelessness in SF

San Francisco is far from solving its housing crisis, but at least one area seems to be coming under control: family homelessness.

After reporting a record-high number of families — 287 — waiting for shelter in April 2013, that number has shrunk 52 percent to 137 families as of April 21, advocates said at a city and school district committee hearing Thursday.

Agencies are crediting the waitlist decrease to a greater availability in public housing, along with more eviction-prevention assistance and rapid rehousing. Family homelessness began to swell in San Francisco in the mid-2000s, with the number of homeless students in the San Francisco Unified School District rising from 950 in 2006 to 2,352 in 2014, said Kevin Truitt, an associate superintendent with the SFUSD.

While The City, the school district and other agencies strived to assist those families, it wasn’t until the past 18 months that the pattern began to change. That’s when a multi-pronged approach in which 100 new public-housing units opened up for families, and rapid rehousing and eviction prevention services ramped up.

And a new partnership between the district and the Hamilton Family Center is also showing promising results of helping homeless families find housing, said Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the center.

In December, the Hamilton Family Center and the SFUSD joined forces to create a hotline for district staff to report students without a home or who seem to be at risk for becoming homeless. School officials call the center’s hotline and, within three business days, a center staff member comes to the school to speak with the family.

Of the more than 70 calls from district staff to consult on homeless or at-risk families, 35 were referred directly to the Hamilton Family Center, evictions were prevented for 12, nine were rehoused, 12 are still searching for a home and two didn’t follow through.

The hotline, one of the first of its kind in the U.S., is the result of a $1 million grant from Google.

“Before [the hotline], it was months before families were making it to our front doors,” Kositsky said.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who chaired Thursday’s hearing, said children who are homeless suffer emotional and behavioral problems that often last into adulthood.

“Homelessness among children often leads to chronic stress and trauma from frequent moves, inconsistent relationships and a lack of places to play and study,” Kim said.

Parents took to the podium at Thursday’s hearing to share stories of raising children without a home. A single father tearfully described walking the streets of San Francisco with his 8-year-old son and two suitcases, trying to find a place for them to spend the night, while a Spanish-speaking mother said that being transferred from shelter to shelter with her daughter made it difficult to find a job.

Kositsky noted that with its current programs in place, San Francisco is on track to end family homelessness. Advocates have drafted a five-year roadmap to reach that goal, including to scale up such resources as eviction prevention and rapid re-housing.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. But at least we see a path with a light at the end of the forest that we can get through,” Kositsky said.

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