Supervisors committee approves increased investment in homeless outreach program

The number of people living on the streets that San Francisco’s homeless outreach team manages has dropped by nearly 40 percent over six years, a fact that may start to answer why The City’s homeless population has remained flat since 2005.

City officials attribute the team’s decline in caseload primarily to a lack of staffing and a lack of housing options, both the temporary emergency beds for homeless people and more permanent housing.

On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee voted 4-1 to invest an additional $1.3 million in the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team, which was created in May 2004 as a new approach to handling homelessness. The program currently operates with a $7.5 million budget. The additional money is for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends in June. If the investment continues, it could add another $6 million to the overall budget annually.

The added funding was proposed by Supervisor Mark Farrell, who said that with about 3,400 people sleeping on the streets every night, more program staff are needed to engage them. But Supervisor John Avalos voted against the measure, saying it failed to incorporate a broader funding strategy.

For example, Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, said that for just under $3 million, about 200 public-housing units could be rehabilitated for housing.

“Outreach doesn’t work unless there are exits out of homelessness,” she said.

According to a report from Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, the program had a high of 850 cases in fiscal year 2007-08 but that declined to 530 in fiscal year 2012-13. In the report, the acting director of the outreach team, Maria Martinez, said the decrease was the result of permanent housing spaces decreasing between 2008 and 2013.

The situation, she said, led to “longer stays in SFHOT’s stabilization rooms and longer periods of case management for each client. As a result, SFHOT was not able to accept as many new clients.”

A Department of Public Health central outreach and case management program, the team is staffed by seven employees and a network of 50 nonprofit groups that provide health and substance-abuse services.

The three existing outreach teams would increase to five and 120 emergency beds would be added to the inventory with the new funding.

Since fiscal year 2005-06, the program has managed 3,188 homeless people and 1,572 of them ended up in long-term housing, according to the report. The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on the proposal.

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