SF considering wide-ranging measures to reduce homeless population

| February 06, 2014
Mayor Ed Lee’s homeless czar, Bevan Dufty, said public housing is an important piece of the solution.
Mayor Ed Lee’s homeless czar, Bevan Dufty, said public housing is an important piece of the solution.
From credit counseling to placing at the Transbay Transit Terminal someone who can offer a free bus ticket out of San Francisco, city officials are suggesting new ways to try and reduce the local homeless population.

The City has built 2,655 of its nearly 6,000 supportive-housing units for the homeless since 2004, and 9,641 individuals have been housed citywide, said Trent Rhorer, director of the Human Services Agency. Still, the homeless population has remained flat at about 6,400 during the past eight years.

In the early 2000s, Care Not Cash and Housing First were major policy shifts in San Francisco’s handling of the homeless population. Now, as homelessness remains a political lightning rod, city officials are rethinking how to address the challenges as The City’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness expires in June.

Mayor Ed Lee’s homeless czar, Bevan Dufty, said public housing is an important piece of the solution, as the mayor has focused on improving this asset. Other cities have demonstrated public housing can be “a major tool particularly in ending family homelessness,” he said.

Dufty suggested that The City consider Utah’s model of providing housing directly to homeless people without having them go through many of the hurdles that exist for traditional housing programs. New York City’s model of providing credit counseling for homeless persons is worth copying, Dufty said.

The City’s existing Homeless Outreach Team needs improvement after suffering from a lack of investment in recent years, Rhorer said.

“We really need to refocus on getting back to that model that was very successful for a number of years,” Rhorer said.

He suggested expanding the Homeward Bound program, which provides a free bus ticket to someone if The City can verify a family or friend is able to help. The City has provided a ticket back home for 7,886 people at a cost of about $179 per person since 2004.

“Folks aren’t returning to San Francisco. Here or there, there might be one or two,” Rhorer said. “It does seem to be working.”

Rhorer suggested stationing a program staffer at the Transbay Terminal to “immediately engage” with homeless people.

He also said there is a need to reassess the $17 million, 1,200-emergency shelter bed system, which costs about $13,800 per bed annually.

“To me warehousing 1,200 people at almost $14,000 a year, when that’s just a little less than what we can house them for, is troubling.” Rhorer said.

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