SF city on homelessness: Notes from a talk about the new department & nov intiatives

Organized by Atlassian and Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco

[disclaimer: these are rough notes from the session]

Open questions I left with

How do we fund/create 6700 units of housing, given assumption that housing may not be “transitional” for most people? I left feeling nervous. The session did not highlight innovative ways to deliver the 6,700 units nor did it seem people were thinking differently/big. (e.g., tiny apts, communal housing, taking advantage of vacancies or couch-surfing protections, new tenant policy).

The one ‘innovative’ and scalable program mentioned twice was creating master leases on SROs. I don’t get this entirely but it seems like the government is buying housing that is currently run by slumlords. The speakers mentioned a couple other programs that were ‘innovative’ but seemed less scalable for 6,700 people (Homeward Bound, and a small cash transfer)

What % of people transition out of housing after they are placed? For many of the homeless consistent casework (mental health services or addiction services) will always be needed. If this is the case, housing is not transitional and should be considered permanent. According to someone at ECS, this is currently the case for the 9–12k units SF is providing. The problem scope and budget becomes very different depending on if we expect people to stay in housing or leave it over time.

How can we diversify (spread out) the location of SF homelessness services? Many of the SRO units (potential housing solutions) mentioned are in the tenderloin and the majority of SF services are located in the tenderloin. However 60% of the homelessness population resides there. On top of this, putting everyone in the same location may amplify the problem. (Plus the tenderloin is city center, so creates other high cost problems to deal with.)

1st speaker: Director of homelessness in SF

Jeff Kositsky, the city’s new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing’s Director


· There are at least 6,700 homeless people in San Francisco, according to the city’s 2015 point-in-time count. (hasn’t grown)

· There are 3500 people unsheltered — — this actually has grown over time. KB comment: Unsure difference between the two numbers. Both were mentioned a few times. The 6,700 seems to be the main one.

· SF has 1200 people in shelter housing now.

· There is a wait list of 835 to access 1200 shelter beds

· 1 in 25 public school students are homeless in SF

· Contrary to popular belief we are not number one on per capita on homelessness — he thinks we are 5th in country, maybe 6th.

· SF has helped 23,000 people end their homelessness (not sure what time frame this is over??)

SF Budget on homelessness: How much do we spend?

· It is reported that the city spends $241M on homelessness…BUT both speakers hated this figure:

“We’re not spending $241 million on the 7,000 people who are homeless. We’re spending more than half of that money to keep people in permanent housing. $140 million worth of the entire San Francisco homeless budget houses approximately 9,000 people. And those are 9,000 people that aren’t even counted among the current homeless.” — Jeff

· $50m on health, Rest on homelessness

· His headline: OK, given the $241M number, this is only 2% of budget. Is this enough? If we take out the $140M, he says they are spending a little over 1 percent on homelessness. Homelessness and transportation are the top priorities the city has.

KB comment: First what is the right % of budget to be spent? What do other cities spend? Second, shouldn’t they count the $140M in the budget? Feels like money to house people should be counted in money spent on homelessness. Good, bad or indifferent, if the key strategy is to offer housing… than housing costs should be counted.

What could the city do better (according to Jeff)?

  1. City is terrible at coordinating work. Way too many non profits too coordinate with. No single data system or way to navigate, 13 databases to track that don’t talk to each other. People have to be assessed multiple times — this is terrible for the people and hard to understand what is happening. This is why a new SF department was created — they can be accountable for the experience and the outcomes.
  2. City has misused prevention money to try to to prevent eviction — it’s not a top reason people are homeless.

His top 3 priorities:

  1. Get department set up: This is difficult in SF
  2. Non profit contract reform: How is money given out?
  3. Coordinated database to track people

KB comment: While seemingly important, all of these do nothing to increase housing / create new housing.

His theory of change?

(Question I asked given his priorities were organizational)

Resounding answer: More housing. Answer to homelessness is affordable housing — more federal and state funding.

KB Comment: How do you create homes for 6700 when there are only 1200 bed right now? Was not satisfying answer…

Possible solutions he mentions: Bridge income gap for now and in the future. This means give people money. And a program called Homeward Bound — connect people to their long lost families. Both seem nice but small and not enough.

Is SF unique?

Yes, but here is why: All homeless services are in one area… District 6 and it is in center of the city

Side comment from him (unsure validity but feels legit): When federal military spending went up, homelessness went up because spending on housing went down.

— //

2nd speaker:

ECS’s Executive Director Ken Reggio will highlight related ballot measures and give his recommendations. ECS gets $28M a year on homelessness — majority comes from the city. They are the biggest recipient of funding.

Prop Q: NO

· What is Q? No tent on sidewalk. Creating law where law is already in place.

· Why NO? One, there is no housing to build to mitigate this or make this realistic. And two, if housing was there (it’s not) priority of housing shouldn’t be who is in a tent.

· This prop also goes against a main recommendation for housing of homeless: Forced dispersement. “Forced dispersement of encampments not recommended”

Prop J: YES

This is Funding for housing and transport

Prop K: YES

· Raise general sales tax by three quarters of percent. This would bring SF sales tax to the average of counties around us.

· J and K go together

· This would bring brings in $50m to fund shelter.

Prop I: YES

· This is the Dignity fund and increases funds for seniors and disabled

· Proposed is $38m, this is a $6m increase

· Why is this important? 24 percent of SF population are seniors or people w disabilities. (KB: WOW!?) 57 percent single seniors can’t afford cost of housing, food and medicine (ucsf number)

Prop S: YES

· Allocation to hotel tax funds to homeless and arts

· Allocates $17m of $380m to homelessness

· Recommendation Yes: Primary reasons given focus on families

Written by

Thinking about Irrationality. Behavioral Scientist. Co-founder of Irrational Labs and Common Cents Lab.

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