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Vicious cycle of chronic homelessness must end

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San Francisco is one of the most beautiful, cultural cities in the world, but it also has an ugly underbelly — homelessness.

There are 6,514 homeless people living in The City, according to the latest count in January, though advocates say the number is much higher — and growing.

Roughly 33 percent are chronically homeless. About half live on the streets or in vehicles and the rest are in shelters or transitional housing.

There has been progress in dealing with the problem, thanks to the Housing First and Care Not Cash programs. More than $1 billion has been spent on the homeless in the past eight years, yet chronic homelessness exists. The toughest cases remain the most expensive to take care of, and there are few long-term solutions on the horizon.

As we reported on Monday, 477 people are costing The City more than $20 million in emergency medical services in one year. Despite that, 34 of them died over the course of the year. Moreover, 10 chronic homeless have cost $2.3 million in repeated ambulance and emergency care as well as detox and psychiatric services.

Better options must be found than the cycle of picking them up, treating their medical problems, detoxifying them, then dumping them back on the streets to begin the cycle again.

You would think that the people wanting to be the next mayor of San Francisco would recognize this as a significant enough issue to address on their campaign websites. But Michela Alioto-Pier, John Avalos, Joanna Rees, Phil Ting and Leland Yee have little or nothing to say about what they would do to improve the situation. The other top-tier candidates provide a variety of suggestions.

Bevan Dufty proposes providing so-called “wet housing,” where alcoholics would be provided alcohol along with counseling to wean them from their addiction. He also advocates providing services for San Francisco’s 80,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in order to prevent future homelessness.

Tony Hall advocates replacing what he calls “nonprofit homeless industry providers” that are “scamming the system” with “organizations whose business is charity, not welfare.”

David Chiu wants to focus homeless task force efforts, integrate law enforcement with social services and provide more philanthropic and corporate support for housing and services.

Dennis Herrera advocates transferring control of the Homeless Outreach Team from the Department of Public Health to the Mayor’s Office. He wants to create city-run drop-in centers for the homeless and provide better coordination with the court system.

Ed Lee wants to create new housing for homeless seniors, veterans and families as well as continuing to fund nonprofits providing shelter, housing and services. But he also wants to hold them accountable for results.

Jeff Adachi says that in addition to providing basic needs, the key to fighting poverty and homelessness is “improving job opportunities in both the public and private sector.”

And while all the candidates have some form of proposal, the gritty day-to-day issues are much more of a reality for average San Franciscans. As we reported in the past, long-term homeless in Golden Gate Park say they will never accept services and simply want to remain in the park.

Task forces, service coordination and holding nonprofits accountable are proposals based on the current failing system. We are asking our mayoral candidates to provide us a vision that will have tangible results for the millions of tax dollars we spend to care for our homeless.