Homelessness in San Francisco

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Homeless person on Church Street in San Francisco.

San Francisco has several thousand homeless residents, despite extensive efforts by city government to address the issue,[1] the prevalence of homelessness in the city is widely remarked on by visitors and other residents, and has been described as "San Francisco's most intractable problem" by guide books.[2]


Some sources date the increased prevalence of homelessness to the 1970s, tying it to a decrease in mental health services and increased numbers of Vietnam war veterans in the city.[3] Other sources mention the decline of industrial jobs in the 1960s and 1970s.

The city government's first organized efforts to address the problem date to the 1980s;[3] in 2002, the city shifted resources away from general assistance payments and towards treatment programs through an initiative called "Care Not Cash", though the impact of that has been debated. In 2004, the city launched a 10-year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness.[4]


As of 2014, the city is believed to have approximately 7,000 homeless residents,[5] as a percentage of city population, this is lower than many other major American cities.[6]


As of 2015, approximately 71% of the city's homeless had housing in the city before becoming homeless, while the remaining 29% came from outside of San Francisco, this figure is up from 61% in 2013. Of that 71%, 51% had lived in San Francisco for less than 10 years before becoming homeless: 11% had only lived in San Francisco for a year before becoming homeless. Reasons cited for homelessness in the 2015 survey commissioned by the City include job loss (25%), alcohol/drug use (18%), eviction (13%), argument/asked to leave by friend/family (12%), and divorce/separation (11%). Reasons for coming from outside San Francisco at the time of homelessness include seeking a job (25%), LGBTQ acceptance (11%), to access homeless services (22%), was visiting and decided to stay (17%), accessing VA services or clinic (5%), and family/friends are here (13%).[7]

Current efforts to address the issue[edit]

In 2014, the city of San Francisco spent $167 million annually on housing homeless residents;[5] in 2016, total spending (including housing and treatment) was believed to be $241 million annually.[8] However, much of this spending is focused on housing the formerly homeless, or those at risk, but not the currently homeless,[9][10] the city's shelter program has approximately 1,200 beds, and several hundred people on the waitlist.[11] Even with 1,200 shelter beds and several hundred on waiting list, most homeless avoid the shelter for various reasons such as: overcrowding, safety, and a barrage of rules that amongst other things separate people experiencing homelessness from their possessions, pets, and loved ones; in 2015 a radical new shelter called the Navigation Center was created to addressed these issues. [12]

Navigation Center[edit]

The Navigation Center started as a pilot program and is a collaboration between the city of San Fransico and San Francisco Interfaith Council and funded by a 3 million anonymous donation and based on the hunch that people experiencing homelessness would be more receptive to utilizing shelters if they were "allowed to stay with their possessions, partners, and pets", the first Navigation Center opened in 2015 at a former school building in the mission district. Unlike other shelters the Navigation Center allows clients to come and go as they please and tries to get them permanent housing within ten days. [13]


  1. ^ "Shame of the City - Homeless in San Francisco". SF Gate. 
  2. ^ Edwards, Nick; Ellwood, Mark (2009-01-01). The Rough Guide to San Francisco & the Bay Area. Penguin. p. 112. ISBN 9781848360600. 
  3. ^ a b "S.F.'s Homeless Legacy - Two decades of failure". SFGate. 2003-09-07. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  4. ^ Bowe, Rebecca (2014-03-25). "San Francisco's untouchables". SF Bay Guardian. San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  5. ^ a b Matier, Phillip (April 21, 2014). "S.F. spending on homeless exceeds many departments' budgets". SFGate. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  6. ^ Kamiya, Gary (2015-02-28). "The Outsiders". San Francisco Magazine. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  7. ^ "San Francisco's Homeless Crisis is Homegrown and a Catch-22". SocketSite. 2016-02-10. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  8. ^ "S.F. spends record $241 million on homeless, can’t track results". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  9. ^ Pershan, Caleb. "No, San Francisco Does Not Spend $36,000 Per Year On Every Homeless Person". SFist. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  10. ^ "Myths, like homeless problem, not going away". San Francisco Chronicle. 2016-04-08. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  11. ^ Heather, Knight (2016-04-01). "What San Franciscans know about homeless isn’t necessarily true". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  12. ^ Pfeffer, Liz. "The first look inside San Francisco's radical attempt to end homelessness". Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  13. ^ Pfeffer, Liz. "The first look inside San Francisco's radical attempt to end homelessness". Retrieved 2016-12-24.