COVID-19 has made it clear how critical housing is for a healthy city, especially among people facing homelessness. In response to the pandemic, we’ve opened more than 20 hotel sites with over 2,600 rooms for unsheltered people who are vulnerable to COVID to isolate and shelter indoors. This undertaking is at a scale that is unprecedented in the City’s history. Hundreds of City employees and thousands of nonprofit staff funded by the City are working around the clock every day to make it happen.
But these hotels are a temporary solution for what we know is a long-term need. As we keep making progress on reopening, it is critical that the thousands of people who are currently sheltered in hotels don’t end up back on the streets and that we don’t give up on people who are still outside. That’s why, in the midst of this emergency response and despite our budget challenges, we have continued our long-term planning to provide housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.
In July, I announced our Homelessness Recovery Plan. This plan is built on three basic premises:
- Expanding housing options for our homeless, including investing in the largest expansion of permanent supportive housing in 20 years.
- Adding capacity in our shelter system, including both opening up our existing shelters, navigation centers, and alternative housing and adding new sites.
- Using prevention and rapid rehousing efforts, like problem solving, time-limited rental subsidies, and connections to health care, employment, and other resources to end homelessness for people with a variety of housing needs.
Ultimately, housing is the solution to homelessness, and by expanding access to housing and other support, we can create real opportunities for people to get off the streets and create a path for them to live a fuller, healthier life.
Where We Are Today
During the early months of COVID, our homeless response system saw significant challenges. We had to reduce capacity in our shelters by nearly 75% and many people lost their temporary housing, which left thousands of people on the street. We couldn’t do the same outreach we normally do because of fear of spreading the virus. To help meet this need, we leased thousands of hotel rooms and opened up safe sleeping sites, but it’s been challenging and we’ve seen far too many people living on our streets.
The good news is that in the last few months, with the expansion of hotels, shelter, and safe sleep sites, City staff has been out tirelessly working in our neighborhoods to move people into safer places off our streets and sidewalks. There’s a lot of work to do, but we have seen some results.
In the Tenderloin, we’ve gone from over 600 people living in over 400 tents on our streets and sidewalks in June to down to under 30 tents today. We’ve worked to get people off the streets from encampments across the entire City, including in the Mission, the Haight, the Bayview, NoPa, the Castro, South of Market, and many other neighborhoods.
Key to all of this is to continue to have places for people to go. That’s why our Homelessness Recovery Plan is so important. Every new unit of permanent supportive housing is one more person who doesn’t need to rely on our shelter system. That means one more shelter bed is free for someone to get off the street. Every person who uses Rapid Rehousing to quickly get housed is one more person who doesn’t get trapped in the cycle of being homeless on our streets and in our shelters.
Combined with our new Street Crisis Response Teams and improvements to how we respond to behavioral health challenges on our streets, we can continue to make a difference. It’s going to take work, but we have a plan.
What is the Homelessness Recovery Plan?
Our plan to help San Francisco recover from COVID-19 includes a steady increase in shelter beds and stable exits to housing over the next two years. We will expand capacity in our Homelessness Response System and make 6,000 placements available for people experiencing homelessness.
These exits include adding new and existing Permanent Supportive Housing, increasing shorter-term rental subsidies and connections to resources to help people exit homelessness, maintaining safe sleeping sites, and reactivating space in the shelter system at a safe capacity with COVID-19 modifications in place.
This plan, which will include all populations and be guided by racial equity, is based on proven approaches such as Prevention, Problem Solving, Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing. Here are the details:
Permanent Supportive Housing
In the next two years, the City will add 1,500 new units of permanent supportive housing. That means that by 2022, the City will have completed the largest one-time expansion of PSH in the last 20 years. San Francisco already has the largest number of permanent supportive housing units per capita of any community in the country with over 8,000 units online, but we know that we need to do more.
To meet this goal:
- The City will identify and acquire buildings that meet the needs of future tenants and are financially feasible for the City. This includes efforts like Project Homekey, which is providing state funding to San Francisco to purchase a 232-room hotel in Lower Nob Hill and turn it into permanent supportive housing for previously homeless individuals.
- In partnership with Tipping Point Community, 200 newly leased units will be made available through a flexible housing subsidy pool, which matches people experiencing homelessness with private market apartments and provides support services and rental subsidies to keep them housed. Tipping Point and other philanthropic partners are also hard at work raising additional funds to support this Recovery Plan.
In addition to these new units, the City will place approximately 3,000 additional individuals in Permanent Supportive Housing over the next two years, which includes units of PSH that are currently under construction, and units that are already part of our system that become available due to regular turnover.
That means that in total, over the next two years, 4,500 people currently in our shelters and on our streets will be moved into housing.
Shelters, Navigation Centers, and Alternative Housing
We know that while housing is important, we also need shelter to help people immediately get off the street. We plan to expand our current system capacity, by reactivating our existing shelter system, adding new Navigation Centers, and continuing alternative housing options like RVs and safe sleep sites.
To meet this goal, the City will:
- Reactivate its adult shelter system to add 500 more beds in the near-term
- This increase will maintain necessary spacing between residents and will include robust safety measures including daily health screening, social distancing, enhanced cleaning, testing, and other preventative measures.
- Add two new Navigation Centers early next year, including: 1) A first-of-its-kind Transitional Age Youth Navigation Center at 888 Post, providing beds for young people ages 18–24; and 2) An adult SAFE Navigation Center at 1925 Evans Street to serve the Bayview community.
- Plan to continue the operation of 120 RVs to maintain this expanded emergency respite, along with safe sleeping sites.
- Finally, once the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, capacity in the adult shelter system will return to pre-COVID levels, reopening approximately another 1,000 placements in previously existing shelter locations.
Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing
We are currently maintaining our eviction moratorium but we know people are still facing housing instability. Every person we can help through targeted interventions is one more person we won’t see fall onto our streets or into our shelter system. These are effective, proven solutions to help address homelessness.
To meet this goal, we will:
- Invest in homelessness prevention, since we anticipate that the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic may contribute to an increase in the number of people at risk of homelessness.
- Continue our Rapid Rehousing for youth and families, and expand this approach for adults. This strategy matches people with short and medium-term subsidies and community resources to help people stabilize in housing.
- Partner with the new San Francisco Housing Authority to unlock hundreds of vouchers for formerly homeless individuals, which other communities have been getting for years but San Francisco has not previously had access to.
How is this Plan Funded?
Over the next two years, the City will leverage over $500 million from a variety of federal, state, and local sources to fund the City’s new Homelessness Recovery Plan.
Funding for the Homelessness Recovery Plan is largely dependent on continued FEMA reimbursement through the next fiscal year (which means through June 2021) for emergency shelter initiatives, newly unlocked funds from the November 2018 Proposition C measure, and the Health and Recovery General Obligation Bond, which San Franciscans will vote on in November 2020.
We also plan on using other federal, state, and local funds to implement the plan. These funds include new state Project Homekey funding, new state homelessness funding from the Governor’s FY 2020–21 budget, federal funding sources, and local General Fund, including $23 million in one-time permanent supportive housing acquisition funds.
As we move from COVID response to a citywide recovery, we have an opportunity to make a difference for those living on our streets and in our neighborhoods. Let’s stay focused on removing barriers to housing and resources, and creating more opportunities for people to transition off our streets.