A man sleeps outside a restaurant on Beach Street on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s homeless population is on the rise

Early results of 2019 count shows over 1,000 more people homeless than in previous years

Preliminary data from a citywide count conducted earlier this year shows a nearly 17 percent increase in homeless residents from 2017, according to numbers released Thursday.

That increase, which reflects the results of a count conducted for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, roughly translates to 1,100 more people living without adequate shelter in San Francisco, up from 6,858 people two years ago to 8,011 in 2019. The City simultaneously conducted its own count with slightly different metrics, the results of which will be released in the coming months.

“This is really heartbreaking,” said Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing Director Jeff Kositsky, who said that increases in homeless populations mirrored or surpassed San Francisco in the region and across the state.

While the initial numbers indicate that homelesness among youth and veterans in San Francisco dropped by 10 percent and by 14 percent respectively, the number of people living in vehicles accounted for 68 percent of The City’s increase in unsheltered people.

Kositsky said that The City needs to “think long and hard” about how to stem the growing population of people living in vehicles.

“A few safe parking facilities isn’t a long term solution,” he said. “Are vehicles the new form of housing? They shouldn’t be.”

In a statement released Thursday, Mayor London Breed said she plans to expand The City’s “Vehicle Encampment Resolution Team, which works with individuals to help them into services and housing.”

She also plans to open a Vehicle Triage Center “where people living in their vehicles can stay as they work to exit homelessness.”

Advocates for the homeless immediately questioned that plan.

“What does the mayor mean when speaking about expanding the ‘Vehicle Encampment Resolution Team?’ Outreach workers actually need housing and resources to be able to help folks. Without the needed resources, how are they going to ‘resolve’ anything?” said Kelley Cutler, a human rights activist with the Coalition on Homelessness, in a tweet on Thursday.

Cutler later told the San Francisco Examiner that while the increase in homelessness locally has “many factors,” a big factor “continues to be the cost of living.”

“It also doesn’t help that when The City attempts to create more housing and resources, they are met with major pushback, like what we recently saw in the Embarcadero,” said Cutler, referencing a proposal to open a large-scale Navigation Center, or low-barrier homeless shelter, on the waterfront. Some residents have vehemently opposed that proposed shelter and threatened legal action to reverse its approval by the San Francisco Port Commission. .

The increase in homeless residents comes despite targeted efforts to bolster The City’s housing and shelter bed supply. Breed has said she plans to add 1,000 more shelter beds by 2020, and in Thursday’s statement said that The City will open 300 new units of supportive housing this year, with more than 1,000 more in the pipeline.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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New homeless count figures show a large increase in the number of people living in vehicles. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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