SF nonprofit hopes to house 800 homeless families by 2018

A San Francisco-based nonprofit has quadrupled the budget of a program aimed at housing homeless students in The City with the goal of finding 800 families a place to live in the next three years.

Hamilton Families connected 237 families with housing in the 2015-16 school year, according to Debbie Wilber, the nonprofit’s director of development. Throughout the same school year, 2,400 homeless or transitional youths attended class in the San Francisco Unified School District — a little over 300 more than the school year prior.

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The recent recession created a backlog of students in need of housing in San Francisco that has nearly doubled since the 2007-08 school year, according to data from the SFUSD. These are students and families who are typically a shoe’s throw away from losing the roof over their heads, often propelled into homelessness by small crises like a car breaking down.

More than half of the families that Hamilton Families serves have never been homeless before, and most of them are not living in the streets but with one or two more families in hotels or homes, according to Wilber. The kids can vary in age, all the way up to nearly 18 years old.

“The parents are very motivated to solve their housing crisis, these are folks who want to have stability and want to support their children,” Wilber said.

Over the last two years, Hamilton Families has tried to put a dent in the backlog by ramping up its Rapid Rehousing program. The program, which is aimed at SFUSD students but serves The City at large, had just over $2 million to spend in the 2014-15 fiscal year compared to the $9.6 million budget it currently boasts through an increase in both private and public funding.

The program has a real estate team that scouts for landlords around the Bay Area willing to rent to families on the lower end of the income bracket, Wilber said. Once a place is found, Hamilton Families could help cover the difference in rent for families over a number of months or pay for the first and last months of rent, for instance.

But because of the housing crunch in San Francisco, where real-estate website Trulia shows the median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,900, Hamilton Families had to move most of the families it served out from The City.

In 2015-16, just 19 percent of the families stayed in San Francisco while 81 percent moved to other cities including Richmond, Vallejo and Stockton, according to the nonprofit. Some families moved as far as Sacramento.

Though the SFUSD numbers show an increase last school year, there is room for debate over whether there were actually more homeless students in the district last school year for several reasons. Whether a student is homeless or in transition is hard to determine, for instance.

To further complicate the count, families often don’t update the SFUSD on their housing situation even after they have found housing.

The school district also keeps tallying homeless students who have been served without removing those who have been housed, which means that the numbers don’t represent the amount of homeless students in the district at any given point in time.

Nonetheless, the school district appears to have a homeless or transitional youth population in the ballpark of 2,000.