Two homeless men sit on the sidewalk near Eddy and Taylor streets in the Tenderloin District on Monday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SF turns to new tactics to make inroads in reducing homeless population

San Francisco plans to reduce by half the number of chronically homeless people by 2022 and promises “no large, long-standing encampments on our streets” by July 2019.

Those are among the goals established by the long-awaited five-year strategic plan to reduce homelessness, which was unveiled on Monday by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

The plan spells out broad goals to reduce the homeless population by specific segments. Only the executive summary was released Monday while the full plan is expected later this week, which will identify the gaps in services and housing supply to achieve the reduction goals.

“We are not standing up here with a plan to end homelessness,” Jeff Kositsky, director of the Homeless Department, told the Local Homeless Coordinating Board on Monday. “I wish that we were … But we can do a lot better than what we are doing.”

The plan comes as homeless people have become more visible in The City with the real estate boom and opioid crisis, and as there was a less than 1 percent decrease in the number of homeless residents since 2015.

This year’s homeless census counted the total homeless population at 7,499 people — a 2 percent increase from four years ago.

Among the goals of the plan is to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 percent by December 2022. This year’s homeless count, which occurred on one night in January, identified 2,181 chronically homeless adults, an increase from the 1,803 identified two years prior.

“Central to this strategy is creating a Housing Ladder to move residents living in Permanent Supportive Housing to other subsidized housing, thereby opening up Permanent Supportive Housing units for chronically homeless clients,” the plan said.

Other goals established in the new five-strategy include to “ensure no families with children are unsheltered by December 2018” and “end family homelessness by December 2021.”

Kositsky explained that ending family homelessness is a long-term goal. “It doesn’t mean that no family will ever be homeless again, but we will be able help them quickly and help resolve their homelessness within 90 days,” he said.

When it comes to homeless encampments, which have led to a number of complaints at City Hall in recent years, the plan promises a better response with “a new system for responding to public concerns” by October 2018, and that by July 2019, “there will be no large, long-standing encampments on our streets.”

The plan continued, “Reducing street homelessness will require improved coordination, as well as investments in services and Temporary Shelter.”

Reduction goals for youth homelessness have yet to be set but are expected by July 2018, as the department works on a program tied to federal funding.

To achieve the reduction goals, the strategy includes an overhaul of the way The City connects people to services by using a tracking system known as the ONE System, which launched in June.

That’s where data per homeless resident is stored, and residents are prioritized for housing and services based on certain criteria. Each person The City interacts with, whether it’s Homeless Outreach Teams or at other access points, will be entered into the system and their information can be accessed.

“Everybody who comes into the system is going to be offered what we are now calling problem solving,” Kositsky said. That includes attempting to immediately house people, such as through Homeward Bound or a three-month grant to help with rent.

Under Homeward Bound, The City pays the travel of homeless residents to go live with family members. “We do this about 800 times a year,” Kositsky said. “We need to and are making improvements in this program but we also need to make it more widely available than it currently is.”

The City plans to build up to 1,300 more permanent supportive housing units in the next five years, on top of the existing 7,403 units. More than 20,000 people experience homeless ness at any given year in San Francisco, and nearly 60 percent of the homeless population sleeps on the streets.

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