Year in Review: Progress on Homelessness

Between January 2019 and January 2022, San Francisco saw a 15% decrease in unsheltered homelessness and a 3.5% decrease in overall homelessness. To achieve this during a pandemic shows what is possible when we work closely with our state and federal partners, as well as our community and non-profit providers.

But our work did not stop in January 2022. Over the last year, we’ve continued to make real progress helping people get off the street. That includes both providing shelter and housing for those who are struggling with homelessness and assistance to keep people stable in their homes.

In 2022, San Francisco helped nearly 9,500 households into either housing or shelter. And we served 9,300 households with help to prevent them from falling into homeless with short-term financial support.

To achieve this, we launched new street initiatives, reactivated and expanded our shelter system, designed treatment programs for people experiencing homelessness who are facing substance abuse and mental health issues, and acquired more housing units than we have in the last 20 years. With these efforts, in 2022 alone, we:

  • Sheltered over 7,000 households
  • Housed 2,400 households through a range of rental assistance and supportive housing programs,
  • Served 900 at-risk households with prevention assistance
  • Provided 8,500 households with problem-solving support like flexible financial assistance

There was no one single program behind this work — it was a variety of local, state, and federal initiatives. Here are some key examples of areas driving our work:

Hotel Successes: Transitioning our Temporary COVID Program and Buying Hotels

Our transition from our COVID emergency response included moving people living in our temporary shelter hotel program (often called our Shelter in Place hotels) into permanent housing. We made a commitment to offer housing to individuals sheltered in our hotels, and while not every person took us up on our offer, we did successfully house over 1,700 participants from this program. This month, we celebrated as the last Shelter in Place guest moved from temporary shelter to a stable placement in the community.

Part of our goal with our temporary shelter hotels was to find properties, including hotels, we could purchase for permanent housing. To achieve this, San Francisco partnered with the state through Governor Newsom’s Project Roomkey to acquire six buildings for 625 new homes.

These hotels are part of the nearly 3,000 new homes we’ve added over the last two years, the largest expansion of new permanent supportive housing in two decades. Our priority now is to continue to fill these homes and support people as they transition out of homelessness and into a more stable future. We know that while shelter is essential for helping to stabilize people, housing is key to ending homelessness.

Success Story: From a Shelter Hotel to Permanent Housing

David was born and raised in San Francisco. Growing up in the Visitacion Valley projects he played a lot of sports and thought he was going to be a pro baseball player. But despite his parent’s warnings not to get involved with drugs, David was soon in a cycle of using and selling. After the family home burned down, everything was gone, and David found himself homeless.

David spent several years in a work program but with his addiction increasing, he was terminated from the program. Due to his health needs and homelessness during the pandemic, David was outreached to and invited into the Shelter in Place (SIP) hotel program. Says David, “If it wasn’t for the SIP program, I don’t know where I’d be.” As part of the SIP program wind down, David was offered permanent supportive housing at 835 Turk Street.

Mayor Breed and Daniel Labogin celebrate the opening of 835 Turk. Formerly the Gotham Hotel, 835 Turk offers 114 new units of permanent supportive housing for adults in need of physical and mental health support.

“When I walk through these front doors, I’m home,” David says of 835 Turk Street. Today, David takes what he calls a safe walk up the street to St. Mary’s Cathedral where he says he talks to God. He also visits the nearby park where he played baseball as a teenager. With stable housing, David is able to work on his detox plan to enter a 90-day program. “Without stable housing, I couldn’t get healthy,” said David. “Now that I’m home, I’m really feeling better.”

Expanding Shelter: Diversifying Options and Reopening Traditional Shelters

Building on our success with our shelter in place hotels, we have worked to add more non-congregate shelter while also expanding our traditional shelters. We’ve opened new facilities at 711 Post and the Baldwin Hotel, where people live in either individual rooms or with a few other shelter residents. We’ve added cabins and are working on a second cabin location in the Mission. We’ve also re-expanded our existing shelter program that we had to reduce capacity in during COVID.

This work has allowed us to significantly expand capacity in our shelter system back up to 2,980 slots, an increase of over 1,150 of where we were at the beginning of 2022.

Federal Partnerships: HUD’s House America & Veterans Affairs National Initiative

The Biden Administration has prioritized addressing homelessness across America by partnering with local governments. Through two partnerships this year, San Francisco has not only met our goals, but exceeded them.

The first is House America, which was a national campaign led by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge with a national goal to re-house 100,000 households experiencing homelessness and to add 20,000 new units of affordable housing into the development pipeline between September 2021 and December, 2022.

Here in San Francisco, we were one of the first counties to join the effort and in fact, we more than doubled on our initial commitment to create 1,500 new placements for the House America Challenge, leading the nation to meet the goal set out by Secretary Fudge.

One of the drivers of this national initiative were federal Emergency Housing Vouchers, released during the pandemic to support people deeply impacted by homelessness during the pandemic. As of this month:

  • 814 applicants have been referred to the program, with approvals and vouchers now being issued.
  • 466 households have already moved in, representing more than 50% of the 906 vouchers allocated to San Francisco.

These vouchers are saving lives.

The program has maintained progress on equity goals of those most impacted by systemic racism or otherwise disproportionately represented among people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. 90% of all households served were black, indigenous, and people of color. 28% of all households were unsheltered.

We also know increasing permanent housing placements is critical to ending Veteran Homelessness. Between 2010–2020, the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States was cut roughly in half. To sustain this momentum and support the ongoing impact of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and ensure at-risk Veterans are safeguarded, the VA established and launched a national challenge in 2022 to provide 38,000 permanent housing placements for homeless Veterans between January 2022 and December 2022.

In collaboration with the San Francisco VA Medical Center, San Francisco’s Veteran Initiative committed to creating permanent housing placements and is on track to exceed the goal.

Street Response Teams Build Out

We also fully launched our street response team network, which is designed to dispatch emergency and well-being calls, coinciding with our encampment resolutions, homelessness and health outreach. The goal is simple: to meet people in crisis, get them off the streets, and assist them as they find stability in shelter, housing, or treatment programs.

The Community Paramedicine Street Teams responded to over 16,000 calls for service in 2022:

  • Street Crisis Response Team (SCRT): 8,861
  • Street Wellness Response Team (SWRT): 5,294
  • Street Overdose Response Team (SORT): 1,897

This year, we focused a lot on alternatives to police in crisis response, such as:

  • Fully moving away from a police response to an emergency medical response for people suffering a behavioral health crisis, meaning 100% of these calls are only responded to by medical and outreach professionals.
  • Conducting 815 tent encampment operations and referring over 1,800 people to shelter and housing from these operations
  • Establishing 190 new behavioral health beds as part of the City’s efforts to add 400 new beds to the 2,200 we already had prior to this expansion.

Looking Ahead: Launching Our 5-Year Strategic Plan

We are now setting a path to launching a City-wide 5-year strategic plan that is deeply informed by the community, particularly people who have experienced homelessness — this plan will:

  • Set a clear direction on what it will take to continue to make an impact on unsheltered homelessness and homelessness among adults, youth, and families in San Francisco.
  • Advance racial and housing justice
  • Improve system performance, capacity, and accountability
  • Enhance crisis services and shelter options
  • Increase exits to permanent housing and strengthen retention in housing programs
  • Prevent people from experiencing homelessness in the first place

We know people are frustrated about real issues like homelessness, people in crisis, and public safety. This is why thousands of City workers and community partners are working tirelessly day in and day out to help people move off the street and get on a path to stable housing.

As we close 2022 and look forward to 2023, know that more effort and progress will come in the new year.

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