SF spends $165.7 million on homeless but it’s still not enough

San Francisco spends $165.7 million on homelessness annually, but it would take tens of millions more to house the thousands who remain living in their cars, on the streets or in makeshift shelters, according to a report released Tuesday.

The lion’s share of the funding goes toward supportive housing, which provides specialized and intensive services to the recently homeless as they adjust to a new way of life, with some combating drug addiction and receiving mental health care.

The City spends $81.5 million annually for 6,355 supportive units, or about $13,000 per unit. Of the 6,436 homeless individuals counted in last year’s homeless count, 3,401 were on the streets without shelter while the other homeless people counted resided in shelters, transitional housing, resource centers, residential treatment, jail or hospitals.

If The City wanted enough supportive housing units for the 3,401 on the streets, it would cost an additional $44.2 million. That’s one way of looking at it as The City attempts to reduce a homeless population whose numbers have remained flat for the past 12 years.

At the request of Supervisor Mark Farrell, the report was completed by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, who analyzed funding for fiscal year 2012-13, when San Francisco’s budget was $7.35 billion.

Farrell, who chairs the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, has requested hearings on homeless issues as The City’s 10-year plan to tackle chronic homelessness expires in June.

“If we are going to spend a lot of time diving into this issue as a whole and sincerely want to make a long-term dent in our homeless population, as a baseline we need to understand where our dollars are currently being spent,” Farrell said. “That’s step one. The next step is evaluating if those dollars are being effectively spent and also understanding what other jurisdictions are doing.”

Mayor Ed Lee’s homeless czar, Bevan Dufty, said the money spent is actually saving taxpayer dollars.

“How much more would we be spending if more people were on the street?” Dufty asked. “It costs the public more for people to live on the streets.”

That said, Dufty insisted officials are not simply operating under business-as-usual policies.

“We’re changing things right now,” he said. “We are really looking at focusing in on the people who have been on the street the longest. We are focusing on long-term shelter-stayers because we should move them into housing. We are not standing still and saying everything is great. We are saying permanent housing is the best solution to homelessness.”

Even though The City has built 3,000 new supportive-housing units since 2002, the homeless population has remained mostly flat. The population has ranged from 6,248 to 6,514 since 2005, after dropping from 8,640 in 2002.

“Are there ways to tinker and move around some of things that we are doing? Clearly,” Dufty said.

Dawn Trennert, co-chairwoman of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, said it seems that San Francisco “has to manage more than our fair share of the homeless.”

“I don’t think it’s very much money at all,” Trennert said. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least.” As for the homeless population on the bustling Polk Street commercial corridor, Trennert said, “It waxes and wanes.”

“Right now, the numbers have been a little less,” she said. “But the mental instability among the homeless seems to be ratcheted up.”

Next week, the San Francisco Homeless Coalition plans to request a $12 million budget increase for next fiscal year for such things as rehabilitation of units and rental subsidies that could house 600 homeless people next year, according to coalition director Jennifer Friedenbach.

A greater investment in supportive housing in the coming years could stamp out the problem altogether.

“It’s not so pie in the sky,” Friedenbach said. “San Francisco’s rich enough to do it, to end homelessness here.”

Homeless in S.F.

A new city report details total spending on homelessness for fiscal year 2012-13:

Permanent supportive housing: $81,531,010

Transitional housing: $9,925,013

Emergency shelters: $17,607,081

Resource centers/drop-in clinics: $6,745,696

Outreach and case management: $14,646,525

Substance abuse/mental health: $8,787,085

Primary care: $14,300,890

Education/employment services: $1,638,034

Eviction prevention: $10,529,295

TOTAL: $165,710,629

Source: Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office

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