Every night for the past two months, Geneva Carter, her mother and her three young children have spent the night on the floor of an office in an emergency homeless shelter in the Mission. They wake at 6 a.m., roll up the mats they slept on and spend the day trying to find a permanent place to live.
“It’s emotional,” said Carter, 21, who is unemployed and cannot afford to pay rent. “I get overwhelmed to where I can’t think.”
Click on the photo at right to see a breakdown of homeless public school students in San Francisco and on the Peninsula.
In the evening, the family waits in line for shelter with other homeless families. And each night, that line seems to get longer.
While it’s no secret that homelessness is a problem in San Francisco, advocates are reporting a quiet but alarming trend. More and more families with children lack a roof over their heads.
Compass Connecting Point, a nonprofit that provides services for homeless families, last week counted 267 families on its waiting list for 59 long-term shelter rooms — an all-time high. Some had been on the list for five months or more.
“It’s been climbing week to week,” said Program Director Susanna Anderson. “It’s really disheartening seeing the list get so long. … People associate homelessness with the single adults on the street, panhandling, mental illness. Families are more under the radar.”
Although it has been three years since the economic downturn began, Jennifer Friedenbach, director of The City’s Coalition on Homelessness, said the number of families without shelter has only increased.
“Everyone’s in crisis mode right now,” Friedenbach said. “It’s going up literally every day. … Poor people in San Francisco, they’re not seeing a recovery.”
On Tuesday, the coalition led homeless families in a rally at City Hall, where they demanded a meeting with Mayor Ed Lee. A Lee staffer said the mayor was unavailable.
“We have families living in cars, families living on the street,” Friedenbach said. “They’ve been ignored by San Francisco policymakers.”
Friedenbach called on The City to make vacant public housing units available to families, to expand housing subsidies and to build more affordable housing.
For Carter and her family, a home of their own still seems a long way off.
“You have so many dreams, so many wishes,” said her mother, Tahmal Griffin, 51, imagining a home where the family would be able to cook their own food, and where her grandchildren might have their own rooms.
“All kids need a home,” she said.
Schools seeing more in need
Nearly 2,200 students in the San Francisco Unified School District received free Muni passes for homeless students last month. At about 4 percent of the student body, that number is an increase of nearly 400 since last November.
“It has jumped,” said Salvador Lopez Barr, homeless liaison with the district. “There’s way more kids who are homeless this year than last.”
The facts behind each homeless family’s plight vary, but include foreclosure or domestic violence. But whatever the reason, homelessness is hard on children, Lopez Barr said.
School districts are required by federal law to help homeless students, and the SFUSD receives about $275,000 in federal funds to provide Muni passes, tutoring, uniforms, school supplies and other needs. But that’s no longer enough, Lopez Barr said, noting that Muni passes alone will likely run $300,000 this year.
“If I were to say, ‘Sorry, we can’t buy passes next month,’ it’s affecting 2,100 to 2,200 students,” he said. “What if they didn’t show up to school?”
Keeping homeless students in school is vital, Lopez Barr said.
“They’re faced with moving and moving and moving,” he said. “We want to make sure whatever happens outside of school, the school is stable for that student.”