Mayor Ed Lee announced his plan to create a new city department to tackle one issue, homelessness. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner, 2014)

Mayor Lee vows improved homeless response with ‘homeless department’

A new city department focused solely on The City’s homeless population is the latest proposal in Mayor Ed Lee’s efforts to address the ongoing issue.

During an announcement made Thursday at St. Anthony’s Foundation in the heart of the Tenderloin, Lee said the department will be part of his budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

As part of his announcement to address homelessness in San Francisco, Lee said he wants to see better procedures around treating those held on 5150 72-hour involuntary psychiatric holds and the ramping up  of drug enforcement around homeless service areas and shelters.

Those employed in the new city department “with a mission to end homelessness here in San Francisco” will have to ask themselves daily, the mayor said, “What did I do to end homelessness on our city streets today?”

The need for a department of its kind has emerged after years of investment in homeless issues, Lee said. “We layered program upon program across a dozen different departments and then we expected a better outcome,” Lee said.

But Lee said what’s lacking is “greater coordination” and he vowed “better results” and “deeper accountability.”

The mayor committed to keep at least a baseline of funding for homeless services at $250 million annually. He also committed to house 8,000 persons within the final four years of his second term in office, which begins next month.

That goal is apparently within reach, based on what The City has already been doing. Between 2013 and 2015 The City placed 2,018 formerly homeless persons in supportive housing, and through the Homeward Bound program paid the travel expenses of 1,614 homeless persons to reunite them with friends or families, according to the Human Services Agency.

The mayor was slammed by his critics when he said in August he wanted to kick out homeless persons in the area where the Superbowl 50 celebration will occur. On Thursday he emphasized how those living on the streets are “human beings who deserve our compassion.”

The mayor also zeroed in on “drug dealers who target the addicted and the mentally ill.”

“I am calling for stepped up enforcement for predatory drug dealing around our navigation centers, around our shelters, around our homeless services and every place we house our homeless,” the mayor said.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, a group which supports the rights of homeless persons, attended the mayor’s announcement. “We are pleased to hear the mayor not only talking about the issue of homelessness, but talking about ending homelessness,” Friedenbach said.

“What was missing from his announcement and what we would love to see is an additional investment in housing.  Absent additional housing resources, homeless people can only expect the status quo.”

This year the homeless count tallied 6,686 persons, with 71 percent were living in a stable housing situation in San Francisco before they became homeless — a 10 percent increase from the 2013 count. In 2013, there were 6,436 homeless persons.  In 2005, the count was 6,248 adults.

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