Homeless families in SF decrease significantly

Type of unit: apartment
Number of bedrooms/bathrooms: 0/1
Location: San Francisco
Monthly rent: $1,600

Such is a listing that very few prospective tenants would expect to find amid San Francisco’s sizzling real estate market, where the cost of living has famously soared higher than any other major U.S. city and the average monthly rent has reportedly topped $3,000.

But for a certain group of residents, this type of post has become a recent lifeline — and has contributed to The City seeing its sharpest decline in the number of homeless families in nearly a decade.

Homeless families in The City are now taking to an online Housing Search Community website created by the Hamilton Family Center, San Francisco’s largest provider of shelter and support services for homeless or recently housed families, that is part of the center’s rapid rehousing and eviction prevention efforts.

The cloud-based website launched in May and has already proven to serve as a much faster and simpler process than the previous spreadsheet-based system, said Elizabeth Hewson, director of strategic initiatives for the Hamilton Family Center.

In fact, 85 percent of families who use the new real-time housing search platform find a home within 30 days, Hewson noted.

The website requires log-in information that’s distributed by the Hamilton Family Center when families enroll in First Avenues, the center’s rehousing program. Families provide their reason for moving and any barriers, like prior eviction history or debt. From there, families can browse the website that offers active listings — typically up to 50 homes a day.

“It’s a struggle [to find housing],” said Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the Hamilton Family Center. “The real-estate market here is so difficult.”

Marcelina Maldonado, 28, knows firsthand how challenging it is to find a home in San Francisco. After she and her family lost their home of eight years, the Hamilton Family Center helped Maldonado manage her budget, look at prospective homes and fill out rental applications. Ultimately, she was able to stay in The City.

“The rent is ridiculous for such a small room, but we had to stay because the services offered in San Francisco aren’t offered in other parts of the Bay Area that are more affordable,” Maldonado said in Spanish.

The center also communicates with landlords to alleviate any concerns about prospective tenants and helps families with a security deposit and other move-in expenses. Staff with the center pull listings for the database from real estate and classified websites like Craigslist, Zillow and Trulia, as well as network with realtors to learn of available below-market-rate units in the Bay Area.

“There’s a lot more housing out there available for families than you would think,” Kositsky noted.

Such efforts have helped reduce the number of homeless families citywide by 11 percent in the past year, from 1,461 in 2014 to 1,298 as of June, according to data compiled by the Hamilton Family Center, though Kositsky emphasized that count is fluid.

While that number is still higher than the 697 homeless families recorded in 2007 — the first year the data is available — Kositsky said a surge in rapid rehousing and eviction prevention programs citywide has led to the greatest drop in homeless families in that time. In The City’s 2015-16 budget, more than $30 million has been allocated specifically to help homeless families.

Perhaps most significantly, the number of families on a waitlist for shelter has also seen its biggest decrease in the past year since 2007, from 200 in 2014 to 130 this year — a 35 percent drop.

The center has also deemed successful a pilot program it launched in January with $1 million from Google in which the center teamed up with the San Francisco Unified School District 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.

Since the launch in January, 31 schools have called the hotline a total of 108 times. For about half those cases, the Hamilton Family Center provided a consultation to the school, and 48 families received direct assistance, including 12 whose evictions were prevented and 36 who were placed into permanent housing.

“It has been revolutionary in terms of how quickly we’re able to help families,” Kositsky said.

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