By The Examiner Editorial Board
Is 2022 the year when San Francisco leaders will finally do what’s necessary to provide shelter to the thousands of people living in misery on our streets? It depends on whether the Board of Supervisors decides to support Supervisor Rafael Mandelman’s proposal to require The City and the county to offer shelter to anyone experiencing homelessness.
Mandelman’s “A Place for All” proposal would require the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to quickly develop an “implementation plan” to provide shelter for those in need of it. This plan would include an estimate for the number of people expected to seek such housing and the costs of creating and providing such shelter on an ongoing basis. City officials would also be required to conduct an inventory of available city buildings and lots that could be used as shelters.
“San Franciscans are frustrated, and rightly so, that after multiple decades and many billions of dollars spent to ‘solve homelessness,’ thousands of unhoused people continue to sleep on the streets night after night,” said Mandelman in a March 22 press release introducing the ordinance. “For all the money we spend and have spent, it’s reasonable to expect clear improvement in the situation on the streets, and frankly people are not seeing that.”
Mandelman’s proposal, a revised version of a previous effort that failed in 2020, is co-sponsored by supervisors Matt Haney, Gordon Mar, Myrna Melgar and Catherine Stefani. Haney, who said he opposed Mandelman’s previous proposal because it relied to heavily on tent encampments, supports the new version because it focuses on getting people into more traditional forms of shelter.
“The pandemic proved that we are capable of doing amazing things — coming up with creative solutions and implementing them successfully,” said Haney in a statement. “We need to approach homelessness with the same urgency and focus and come up with a plan to get people off the streets and into care.”
With San Francisco poised to spend $1 billion on homelessness in the next few years, taxpayers will expect results in a city where the problem only seems to get worse with each passing year. The lack of available housing and shelter has resulted in an explosion of tent encampments as well as people sleeping in whatever alley or doorway they can find.
San Francisco, and the Bay Area in general, needs more affordable housing. Yet a policy of defunding shelters in order to focus on solutions like permanent, affordable housing has helped create crisis levels of unsheltered homeless people on our streets, according to a 2021 report by the Bay Area Council.
“While this reprioritization is consistent with national trends and numerous studies on the long-term effectiveness of permanent housing, the high-cost Bay Area has been unable to scale permanent housing faster than the rate at which residents are becoming homeless,” according to the “Bay Area Homelessness: New Urgency, New Solutions” report. “The result has been the de facto warehousing of increasing numbers of homeless residents on Bay Area streets, cars, and RVs along with the intraregional shifting of shelter burden to the City of San Francisco, which was the only Bay Area County to have increased its shelter inventory over the past decade despite already providing far more permanent housing and shelter per capita than other Bay Area Counties.”
Among other things, the report called for Bay Area cities to expand the availability of emergency shelters, noting that the number of unsheltered homeless people in the Bay Area increased by 63% between 2010 and 2020. In San Francisco, the number of unsheltered homeless people increased by 76% during the same period of time.
The City now faces a homelessness crisis of unprecedented proportions, and Mandelman is right to call for a new approach. While The City must continue to build more housing, including affordable and permanent supportive housing, the growing problem of homelessness far outpaces our ability to build new housing units to match the need. Trying to solve the urgent homelessness crisis on our streets with permanent housing only is like trying to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon.
Mandelman’s proposal lays out San Francisco’s 40 years of failed attempts to make a dent on homelessness and sets forth a clear plan to do better. It calls for The City to expand its shelter program with a mix of options, including shelters, converted hotels and tiny homes. It also caps safe sleeping tent sites at 20%.
The proposal deserves a full debate by the Board of Supervisors, and anyone opposed to “A Place for All” should present an equally thoughtful plan to address the crisis of homelessness with the urgency it deserves.