SF renews long-range plans to help people living on the streets

San Francisco officials today are expected to begin what will likely be an ongoing public debate during the coming months about how to reduce the number of homeless people living on city streets.

As The City’s 10-year plan for ending chronic homelessness is expiring, Supervisor Mark Farrell has called for today’s hearing. He also said he may introduce legislation in the coming weeks to implement new policies to address the issue.

Homelessness remains among the top concerns of residents. It also factors into political debates on policies such as the closure of parks at night and making it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks, both of which were blasted by homeless advocates.

As The City enjoys more prosperous times with a local economy thriving in part due to the technology boom, city officials say they have the resources to better address the problem.

In the past 10 years, Farrell said, The City has made “great strides in a number of areas” but “the reality is the number of homeless individuals on our streets has remained the same.”

“If we are talking about creating a meaningful dent in the issue, then we haven’t achieved that as of today,” Farrell said Tuesday.

Mayor Ed Lee’s homeless czar, Bevan Dufty, said the 10-year plan called for the development of 3,000 supportive housing units, and by June, The City will have completed 2,800.

While the homeless count has remained flat, Dufty suggested that was not a sign of failure but of success given that there was a “global recession” and homeless populations in other major cities have jumped — i.e., Los Angeles’ 16 percent increase since 2011. San Francisco’s every-other-year homeless count identified 6,455 homeless people in 2011 and 6,436 last year. In 2005, 6,248 were counted.

“My goal is to bring the number down significantly before the next homeless count in 2015,” Dufty said.

That means more housing for the homeless and also more of a “housing ladder” where people who are in supportive housing or public housing have achievable ways to move into more stable situations, Dufty said.

Jennifer Friedenbach, who serves as head of the nonprofit Coalition on Homelessness advocacy group, said that with proper investment, much can be accomplished. That could mean subsidies and use of public-housing sites, which are being eyed for major rebuilds.

“I think we can end homelessness among families in 10 years,” she said. There are an estimated 1,200 homeless families in San Francisco.

What she wants to avoid is further politicizing homelessness, which has occurred in the past and led to policies that waste resources and exacerbate the challenges.

“Homeless people are used as scapegoats by politicians on a frequent basis,” she said.

Homeless count

Tallies of homeless people are holding steady:

2005: 6,248

2007: 6,377

2009: 6,514

2011: 6,455

2013: 6,436

Source: San Francisco Homeless Count and Survey

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