A member of the Homeless Outreach Team patrols with a BART Police officer at Civic Center BART. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF to spend more on homeless outreach team despite questions about results

Renewed contract includes funding for 15 more full-time positions

Despite questions around its efficacy, San Francisco’s homeless outreach program is about to receive a contract extension with a staffing boost worth millions of dollars.

The private nonprofit Heluna Health’s current contract with The City to run its Homeless Outreach Team began in March 2014. They are now slated to receive a 17-month contract extension from the Board of Supervisors beginning in November.

The contract extension costs The City $15.4 million and includes a staffing boost of 15 full-time positions to bring the total to 86.

The cost of the Homeless Outreach Team, or HOT, has grown over the years from $3.1 million in fiscal year 2014-15 to $8.5 million in the current fiscal year.

Members of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee questioned the program’s effectiveness Wednesday, but ultimately all three committee members voted to approve extending the contract until June 30, 2021. The full board is slated it vote on it next week.

Calling the current homeless situation on the streets “intolerable,” District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said that “continuing to extend a five-year-old contract in the current conditions makes me nervous.”

“There are many ways for us to spend money on homelessness and outreach, and it is not totally visible in my district how HOT dollars are getting spent and if they are, frankly, if they are worth the money,” Mandelman said. “I think the jury is out. I haven’t come to any firm conclusions about that.”

Jeff Kositsky, director of Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which contracts with the nonprofit, defended the HOT team’s results and called the program an “integral part of a larger system of care for homeless people.”

“I understand the public’s frustration about this,” Kositsky said. “Our successes are invisible.”

The HOT program initially began in 2004 under the Department of Public Health to provide outreach and case management to hard-to-serve individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

He provided a snapshot of work HOT did in June as an example. He said they engaged in June with 1,194 homeless people on the streets, of which 741 accepted referrals of service and 453 declined offers of assistance.

“We know 580 of them actually received some type of service,” Kositsky said.

Of the 580, Kositsky said that “205 of the individuals that we spoke to engaged in a problem solving conversation or went to one of our resource centers or access points to engage in services and 375 accepted other types of assistance.” That includes 155 who accepted offers of shelter, he said.

“At the end of the day that kind of relationship building is what’s going to help us get the challenging-to-serve client off of the streets,” Kositsky said, adding that it can sometimes take five years to help one person get housed.

“Compelling people into services — unless they are suffering from profound mental health issues — is not going to work,” he said.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani said her constituents are not seeing the HOT team.

“I don’t know what to tell my constituents in terms of how does the HOT team work in District 2, how does the HOT team work on Chestnut Street, on Union Street, on Fillmore Street,” Stefani said. “They feel like they do not see anybody out there.”

Kositsky said that HOT is divided up by police district and that the resources are assigned based on the need, which is determined by the number of homeless people. He said that since District 10, the Bayview-Hunters Point area, has 20 percent of the homeless population, officials try to make sure 20 percent of the HOT team’s time is spent in that district.

“Every neighborhood of the city has a HOT team member who is assigned to work in that neighborhood,” he said.

The budget analyst’s report said that “HOT outreach teams (two people per team) have a target of serving 5-10 clients a week, or 20-40 clients a month.”

“These targets vary based on special projects, SFHOT contracts, client needs/services available and available staffing,” the report said.

Outreach workers and case managers with HOT earn between $49,444 and $68,103 a year and HOT supervisors between $70,000 and $75,000, according to Kositsky.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer suggested it may make more sense to have city workers provide the services and not contract them out, to have more accountability. But she praised the program. “I want a HOT team in my [Richmond] district and I want one that is going to stay,” she said.

As part of the approval, Fewer directed Kositsky to provide a more comprehensive accounting of the HOT team’s performance as part of next year’s budget process.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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