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As part of the San Francisco Department of Homelessness & Supportive Housing’s (HSH) Five Year Strategic Framework Update and 2020 Implementation Plan During COVID-19 Crisis,(1) HSH elevated the importance of equity as a core part of the work to end homelessness. In October 2020, through a gift offered to HSH by Tipping Point, the National Innovation Service (NIS) Center for Housing Justice (CHJ) was contracted to accomplish three primary objectives to support advancing racial equity within the department: 

  1. Support HSH’s submission of the Phase I Action Plan on workforce equity to the San Francisco Office of Racial Equity;
  2. Create a set of priorities to help move HSH culture and actions forward immediately toward racial equity; and
  3. Create an accountability plan to sustainably advance equity.

Vision Toward Housing Justice

As part of our approach, CHJ engaged with HSH staff and members of the community about their vision for housing justice in San Francisco. This offered a vision for housing justice that elevates the concepts of housing as a human right, ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive, partnership and actions in solidarity with people— instead of positional acts of charity—and moving decision-making power to people who have experienced homelessness.

Understanding what it means to advance racial justice and antiracist practices requires an understanding of the origin of policies and practices that already exist in those spaces. Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have historically experienced housing instability and homelessness at significantly greater rates than their white counterparts. This disproportionality is the result of systemic racism and histories of policy rooted in white supremacy enacted to deprive BIPOC communities access to resources and wealth building mechanisms-including home ownership. People experiencing homelessness, (in addition to the trauma suffered through the experience of homelessness) experience institutional and systemic racism from within the homeless response system, especially its services, which results in harmful and negative outcomes.

In A Brief Timeline of Race and Homelessness in America,(2) NIS and partners describe the historical connections between race and homelessness in the United States; including a timeline that illuminates the origin of policies and practices that drive homeless response systems today. An antiracist system must be able to acknowledge and translate the historical and present-day racist trauma into policy, practice, and action that both addresses previous harm and moves towards a new reality.

The NIS Center for Housing Justice team applied this approach by centering the experiences and insights of members of historically marginalized communities—particularly people who identify as Black, Indigenous or other people of color, including intersecting identities and experiences in our discovery process. This process sought to map elements including the functions, limits, and opportunities of the culture of HSH; formal and informal power structures; HSH communication, patterns of shared experiences asserted by staff; decision making and evidence of accountability.

CHJ worked closely with HSH staff, HSH-funded providers and people with lived expertise to build a shared understanding of the organization’s experiences, needs and priorities and to identify missed opportunities to advance the department’s racial equity efforts.

There were five distinct parts to our process: 1) a materials audit of written policy and practices, DEI meeting notes, HSH equity staff survey and documents; 2) in-depth review and analysis of the drafted ORE Racial Equity Action Plan;(3) 3) in-depth interviews, focus groups, and listening sessions 4) co-design strategies with HSH staff to address findings and 5) providing staff support and coaching

The objectives of this process were the following: 

  1. Create space for organizational staff and leadership to have confidential conversations to feel fully self-expressed and contribute concerns and needs.
  2. Assess core organizational needs around equity by evaluating organizational policies, practices, strategic plans, data, and related documentation.
  3. Understand the experiences of people who are served by the homeless response system in San Francisco, to highlight areas where inequities and bias may appear in current approaches to lived-experience engagements and housing services. 
  4. Identify opportunities for equitable decision making and an increased culture of accountability around racial equity, diversity, and inclusion I within HSH and amongst community partners and HSH staff.
  5. Support HSH with scoping the new Chief Equity Officer role and provide interview tools and resources in support of creating systems and structures of accountability to reinforce accountability culture.

At the time of this report, HSH is also currently in the process of recruiting for a Chief Equity Officer (CEO) to be hired by mid-2021. CHJ provided support in the development of the position description and selection models, and will expect to provide onboarding support and coaching to equip the CEO to hold the accountability work of phase I and the launch of external work toward phase II.

Materials Audit 

CHJ identified, collected, and reviewed programmatic data; organizational, departmental, and office-level strategic plans, process documents, and other service delivery materials and tools to inform the process and the staff and leadership interviews. Additionally, CHJ assessed for evidence of racial equity tools and concepts used to inform decision-making processes, program design and evaluation and organizational practices. CHJ’s organizational audit was used to help inform opportunities for interviews to dive deeper into content (i.e. human resource management) and where to target areas of support for subsequent leadership coaching. CHJ also reviewed materials in service of supporting the completion of the Phase I Action plan submission to the City and County of San Francisco’s Office of Racial Equity (ORE). 

Supporting the Submission of Office of Racial Equity Phase I Action Plan

In partnership with HSH ORE Plan project leadership staff, CHJ reviewed the draft Action Plan and provided recommendations and feedback to staff on areas to strengthen the plan. Given the ORE Plan extension offered by the City to January 31, 2021, CHJ was able to provide additional support to the staff completing the phase I draft and supplemental materials. This provided a foundation for the subsequent work CHJ conducted in partnership with HSH by positioning the agency to lean into acknowledging past actions and areas for growth. The draft plan describes short-term actions to increase diversity, equity and inclusion within the department and is supplemented by the co-developed CHJ and HSH deliverables that centers on creating a foundation for accountability and action. In addition to the development of this report, CHJ will support HSH project leads with co-facilitation guidance of “Deep Dive” staff feedback sessions scheduled for April 2021 to further enhance agency understanding and support ongoing work towards racial equity beyond the initial ORE plan submission.

Applying the HSH Staff Racial Equity Survey

In the fall of 2020, prior to the engagement with CHJ, HSH and Focus Strategies conducted a survey focused on staff perceptions of racial equity issues in the workplace. The survey was designed to inform HSH’s Phase I Action plan submission to ORE. While a little over half of the organization participated in the survey, there was participation across levels of decision making and across teams within the department. While 52 % of HSH staff identify as Asian, Black, Filipino, Latinx, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or multi-racial, 56% of participants in the survey represented these categories. A large percentage of respondents chose ‘preferred not to answer’ as a response to race (22%), ethnicity (19%), gender (13%), and sexual identity (14%).

CHJ focused on the findings that may indicate structural reinforcers of inequity. The large percentage of respondents who ‘preferred not to answer’ demographic questions raised a flag about safety and trust that is consistent with other findings CHJ observed during our engagement. The survey findings also reflected differences between BIPOC, white staff, and those who preferred not to respond, especially in the handling of racial equity issues by senior management.

Among staff respondents who provided comments on HSH’s work on racial equity (roughly half of the sample), there was a common theme of disconnection between departmental communications and actual policies and actions. Another widespread view expressed in the comments was that promotion and retention practices were racially inequitable and inconsistent in application. These survey results informed our approach to interviews, focus groups, and coaching.

In Depth Interviews

CHJ conducted 14 in-depth interviews with HSH staff from November 2020 through January 2021. The purpose of the interviews was to collect qualitative data from participants who have direct involvement or positional power related to DEI efforts within HSH to date. Staff who were invited to participate in interviews and focus groups were selected based on the following criteria:

  1. Current involvement with DEI efforts (e.g. DEI Committee member, race equity leader)
  2. Former involvement with DEI efforts (e.g. former DEI committee member
  3. Holding a position in Executive Leadership
  4. Other staff, as recommended by participants due to DEI committment or lived expertise

Focus Groups & Listening Sessions

As part of the engagement, CHJ connected with people with lived experience of the homeless response system in San Francisco (SF). Specifically, CHJ met with two separate groups of Black, Asian American, Pacific Islander and Latinx/e individuals who have experienced homelessness as part of a family and three focus groups with Black and Latinx/e young people who have experienced the system as youth. These sessions were facilitated by CHJ and focused on listening to responses from the participants on how they would describe a homeless response system rooted in equity and justice, experiences navigating the system resources, and name any experiences of bias due to identity and feelings on accountability.

To broaden the sample size, CHJ also conducted several listening sessions with different cohorts of staff and stakeholder groups across the organization to gain a more varied perspective and provide opportunities for other staff to propose solutions in response to the audit findings. CHJ attended several external and internal standing community meetings to conduct listening sessions on equity issues with its participants. Meetings attended included the HSH Quarterly Provider Leadership meeting, HSH Funded Providers of Color meeting and HSH Supportive Housing Program Directors. The purpose of each listening session centered on elevating equity issues and informing priorities.

Co-Design Workshops

On March 3rd and March 5th, the CHJ team facilitated two workshop sessions to review emerging themes based on the discovery findings and to co-design a set of priorities and action steps to advance racial equity efforts. We recognize this work is evolving and may be influenced by the incoming Chief Equity Officer. We hold the value of advancing the equity work, while also remaining flexible for continuous learning and evolution of how to advance the equity goals.

Office of Racial Equity Phase I Action Plan Support 

Before engaging with CHJ, HSH organized itself functionally to be able to deliver their phase I action plan to ORE. CHJ began its engagement by drawing from and expanding on regular meetings of key staff who had volunteered for or been named as the team responsible for driving toward that action plan; intentionally valuing the individual and collective dedication and effort being put forth by that group. This process included collaboration with the HSH racial equity leads that included program staff, Deputy Director, HR Manager and HSH Interim Director. The focus of our review included refining the existing plan input, navigating internal stakeholder groups, co-designing and input strategy, identifying internal structures of accountability and points of influence to sustain change.

HSH Equity Leadership & Staff 

Over the course of the engagement, the CHJ team has coordinated routinely with HSH staff and leadership in order to support its continued ability to shepherd the advancement of racial equity work. The CHJ team has facilitated weekly video calls with a representative team of Executive Leadership, HR, Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Committee members and other HSH program staff who have been involved in HSH equity efforts. This group provided technical guidance and expertise throughout the project engagement, helped to shape and participate in co-design sessions to digest the findings and envision the next steps to advancing equity. This group also demonstrated a practice of living in authentic relationships with each other as this work evolved and offered space to each other for support and processing the emotional impact of experiencing the impact of white supremacy and racism.

The CHJ team also began engaging the Executive Team, as members of HSH staff with clear and direct positional power to move forward both action plan items included in the ORE report, and to assess readiness for and begin socializing big cultural shifts that would likely be necessary to be able to move toward racial equity and accountability as lived values for the organization. The CHJ team also supported the HSH leadership through the hiring process for the Chief Equity Officer position during these calls.

Given the size of the organization and timeline of priorities, CHJ was not able to actively engage all levels of staff. This approach limited our engagement with middle management and frontline staff who were not explicitly part of the DEI Committee, Phase I Action Plan team, or project advising team. Recognizing there are many voices, CHJ is intentionally co-designing pathways for ongoing input for continuous improvement and engagement from staff across the organization. CHJ is confident that the voices of HSH staff were heard through the completed activities; there was targeted representation across the organization even though the team was not able to speak to every current employee at HSH.

In addition, as the scope of work was focused on the HSH Phase I Action plan submission to ORE and addressing internal HSH culture, policies and practice, CHJ prioritized the early phase engaging internally. CHJ focused its effort on HSH organizational dynamics, policies, and procedures about human resources and structures within HSH. The impact of this limited opportunities to engage with funded external providers to one-off group meetings where racial equity was part of the agenda. This scope of work did not include a more expansive conversation with external HSH stakeholders. In the next phase of work with Tipping Point, CHJ will focus explicitly on external homeless response system and HSH partner engagement that includes external stakeholders, focusing on Black, Indigenous and Transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) leadership and staff of funded agencies and other community stakeholders. It will also work to actively engage more varied levels of HSH staff.

As HSH transitions to setting up an implementation structure and process for advancing racial justice, CHJ recommends that HSH builds on what was learned through this process to identify areas of intersection and exploration with staff, contracted providers, current clients, and other stakeholders engaged in the San Francisco homeless response system.

HSH Quantitative Data

Collaborative data review:

  • HSH- Focus Strategies Survey results

HSH Qualitative Data

Policy audit and analysis + collaborative data review:

  • Qualitative surveys:
  • Organizational structures/staffing data
  • Racial equity strategies and tools:
    • Programs and processes focused on equity:
    • Current and pending policies and guidance focused on equity

CHJ-NIS Participatory Qualitative Data

Participatory research:

  • Presentations, feedback sessions, and planning meetings:
    • CHJ + HSH Racial Equity Project Advisory Weekly Meetings 
    • Providers of Color Meeting 
    • Quarterly Provider Leadership Meeting 
    • Executive Team Meetings 
    • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Committee Meeting
    • All Staff Huddle Meeting
    • Coaching Calls w/ Director & HR Manager
  • Focus Groups w/ People w/ Lived Expertise
    • Family Focus Group – English Speaking – Jan
    • Family Focus Group – Spanish Speaking – Jan
    • Youth Focus Groups – English Speaking – Dec, Jan, Feb
  • 14 One on One Staff Interviews
    • DEI Committee Members (current and former)
    • Executive Team
    • Management
    • Other Staff


(1) Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, 2020. “Five Year Strategic Framework: 2020 Implementation Plan During COVID 19”. Accessed March 31, 2021. .

(2) Olivet, Jeff, Amanda Andere, Marc Dones, Brittani Manzo, and Jessica Venegas, 2019. “A Brief Timeline of Race and Homelessness in America” Community Solutions. March 19, 2019. 

(3) Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, 2021. “Racial Equity Action Plan: Phase I, January 2021”. Accessed March 31, 2021.