Street homelessness is a crisis impacting San Francisco as well as communities up and down the West Coast. This is a humanitarian crisis at many levels. The most recent Point-In-Time (PIT) Count conducted in 2019 found that of the 8,035 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in San Francisco, approximately 5,180 of those people – 64% of the total – were unsheltered.
San Francisco has seen an increase in the visibility of street homelessness in recent years. The “building boom” in the eastern neighborhoods has contributed to the increase in visibility of encampments in more residential and commercial areas. The rise in utilization of tents and physical structures by people experiencing homelessness has also contributed to the increased visibility of street homelessness. The opioid crisis affecting the nation is also present in San Francisco and is visible in a portion of the population today living on our streets.
The Current Approach to Street Homelessness
On any given day in San Francisco, many city departments play a role in keeping our neighborhoods safe, and helping people experiencing homelessness on the streets. They address many needs ranging from picking up trash, to providing medical and behavioral health services, to ensuring safe sleeping environments for our unsheltered neighbors.
Through the City’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH),the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team (SFHOT) provides compassionate outreach and case management for individuals experiencing acute, unsheltered homelessness. SFHOT works collaboratively with the Department of Public Health’s Street Medicine team to address medical and behavioral health needs, using an individualized approach that includes wrap-around services, and promotes harm reduction and stability-based recovery. SFHOT works to engage and stabilize the most vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness by connecting them to available and appropriate resources. SFHOT members work in small, skilled teams, in two shifts seven days a week. Services are provided by teams with expertise in the complex issues that are barriers to stability for this population. Outreach includes practical support, information and referral, and in-depth assessment and case management for the most vulnerable and at risk.
How the City Supports Healthy Streets: Healthy Streets Operation Center (HSOC)
HSOC is a collaboration of 14 city agencies and departments. HSOC engages in cleaning, and outreach to encampments throughout the City to ensure safe sleeping guidelines are being followed. When housing alternatives are available, HSOC resolves the City’s most challenging encampments. Everyone in these encampments is offered access to shelter, safe sleeping sites, or hotel rooms based on eligibility and availability. While most people accept this assistance, those who do not are asked to relocate to an area that follows the safe sleeping guidelines.
HSOC is only able to resolve encampments when it has an adequate number of sheltering alternatives. Therefore, some encampments may stay in place during the pandemic. Please note that HSOC is currently focused exclusively on large encampments and is only one of many City programs designed to assist unsheltered individuals.
HSH Strategy to Address Street Homelessness
- The best way to address street homelessness is to reduce overall homelessness by providing access to housing.
- Expand shelters, navigation centers, and resource centers to meet the immediate needs of people living on the streets
- During COVID-19, provide increased wellness checks and offer available and appropriate temporary shelter resources to support unsheltered individuals sheltering in place with dignity.