San Francisco’s Next Steps on Expanding the City’s Shelter Program

Our recent Point in Time Count found that San Francisco saw a 15% reduction in unsheltered homelessness since 2019 and an overall reduction in homelessness. San Francisco was the only county in the Bay Area that saw this level of decrease. While this is progress, we have so much work to do.

That includes adding more housing to help people transition off the street. In July 2020, we set a goal of adding 1,500 new units of permanent supportive housing over two years. We dramatically exceeded that goal by securing 3,000 new units, which are in various stages of leasing up now.

It also includes programs that prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place like rent support and flexible financial assistance. For those who might be on the edge of homelessness and just need to get a little support these programs can be a lifeline so they don’t fall into a much more difficult situation that is harder, and more expensive, to get out of.

Additionally, building more housing overall and ensuring we have stronger mental health support, services, and treatment for those struggling with addiction.

Finally, our work must include more shelter. In the next few months, we will be adding over 1,000 shelter beds to our system, either through opening new shelters or expanding our existing shelter system that was downsized during COVID. As we add new shelter, it’s important that we learn the lessons from COVID about having diverse interventions that best serve our needs.

Diversifying Shelter Options: New concepts

While our traditional congregate shelters and navigation centers will always be part of our Homelessness Response System, our experience with COVID and feedback from people experiencing homelessness have informed our strategy for new shelter concepts.

For example, we are opening two new shelters, a semi congregate shelters at 711 Post and a non-congregate shelter the Baldwin Hotel, with 430 beds available for those who are living on our streets. These beds are not the traditional shelter model with congregate sleeping quarters. Instead, we are creating non-congregate situations to provide more privacy with a few people grouped together. We learned during COVID that having private and semi-private rooms can help us in bringing more people in off the streets.

The units at 711 Post are a mix of singles, doubles, and quads. Doors will open to welcome guests beginning Monday, July 25, 2022.

On top of this, we are also adding new shelter cabins like we have done on Gough Street, with funding in our budget for 70 new cabins in the Mission.. Again, these are good alternative options for those who want to be off the street but have struggled in the traditional shelter system.

We are also continuing to provide local funding to keep three shelter in place hotels open even as our federal funding that supported this program goes away. These shelter in place hotels are a good step towards getting people into permanent housing.

Finally, we are doing the work to add more vehicle triage centers. Vehicular homelessness is a significant driver of our unsheltered population, and these sites can serve as a location where people can move their vehicles off the street and get connected to services or access to services and stable housing.

Utilizing our Traditional Shelter System

All of this work to diversify our shelter system doesn’t mean we are giving up on our traditional shelter system. Congregate shelter is an essential part of helping to get people quickly off the street so we can get them in line for housing.

During COVID, dramatically reduce our shelter capacity, but we have been adding more capacity slowly, and now we are taking significant steps to add back shelter capacity in our existing shelter system over the next few months. Our plan is to add back 592 beds to our traditional shelter system by September.

The Bayview SAFE Navigation Center opened in 2021 and currently has a maximum capacity of 116 people.

Combined with the new beds coming online at 711 Post and the Baldwin, that means over 1,000 new beds will be available by September that we don’t have today for people who are unsheltered. As all of these beds come on line, our outreach teams will be able to quickly move people off the streets and into shelter, where staff can work with them on finding a permanent exit from homelessness. And across all of our shelter models, we’re committed to creating environments where people have the support and tools they need to find stability.

Outreach and Support

As we add all these resources, we have to be clear that people are not allowed to set up tents on our streets and sidewalks when we have places for them to go. For residents with particularly complex needs, we will use all available resources to get them the appropriate assistance and on the pathway to recovery. For people exhibiting harmful behavior or continually refusing assistance, we will use every tool we have to support their welfare, ensure the safety of our neighborhoods, and get them into care.

San Francisco launched the Healthy Streets Operations Center (HSOC) in 2018 to coordinate the City’s response both to homeless encampments and to behaviors that impact quality of life in San Francisco’s public spaces. Photo credit: Public Works

Our crisis response and outreach teams are out there every day encountering people in complex and challenging circumstances. There are people who clearly need and want help and it is our goal to use every available resource to get people connected to housing, or on the pathway to recovery. But there are others who are already housed or in shelter who are also setting up these tents.

Here’s an example: recently there was an encampment of 17 tents and three vehicles set up in and around a state-owned parking lot on Golden Gate and Franklin. Multiple city departments worked with state agencies since they own the land, to do outreach over multiple days to those living in the lot. Our team did some incredible work and got 15 people into shelter. This included a family of three with a young child and a longtime homeless couple that had not previously been in shelter for years, who now is working on applications for housing. That is the success of our services.

However, there were also two people living there who already had places in our shelter system, and a few others who refused any help and who relocated to another location. We are continuing to engage with them, but we can’t let them just set up tents on our streets.

We are committed to helping those in need. But we cannot continue to allow people who we have offered shelter or housing, to continue to camp on our streets. That is not acceptable for our residents, our workers, and our small businesses.

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