Monday, April 04, 2016

Homeless deaths in the city no longer ignored

Good to see that the city---and the SF Examiner---is more systematically looking at how/why homeless people die in San Francisco (Decade of tracking homeless deaths in SF sheds light on imperfect system. See also this)

I tried to fill that gap on this blog when I learned that the city had created a homeless death form in 2005. My first post using that information was on the number of homeless deaths in 2006 (see this and this).

Probably for political reasons, more than ten years ago the city stopped collecting information on how many homeless people were dying in the city every year.

From a blog post in January, 2005:

The annual body count used to be compiled by the city's Dept. of Public Health but was discontinued after the 2000 count (total homeless dead that year: 138), supposedly for lack of funding. We have a right to suspect, however, that there were a lot of city officials---including some so-called progressives---who found the annual body count embarrassing. While the homeless body count was still being done, I tried in vain to get local papers to publish the numbers on the front page, citing the example of the weekly body count during the US attack on Vietnam as a boon for the peace movement. I still think highlighting the number is useful to remind people that we still have a lot of work to do as long as homeless people are dying on our streets.

Oddly, about the same time the city created the homeless death form, the mainstream media apparently stopped asking the city for that information. From the Examiner's story:

The potentially deadly outcome of homelessness is often overlooked amid today’s tense political and cultural debate over how best to address the issue, which was heightened in recent weeks by sweeps of tents along Division Street. But the fact remains that homeless residents suffer from severe health issues at earlier ages and hundreds have died on San Francisco’s streets, their lives cut short, in the past decade. The San Francisco Examiner obtained details of the homeless deaths on record at the Medical Examiner’s Office and the Public Health Department since July 2005 through the Freedom of Information Act.

Actually, all the Examiner had to do was call the helpful people at the Public Health Dept. on Grove Street to get copies of the homeless death forms, which is what I've been doing for years.

The good news: homeless deaths have gone down in the last ten years due to increased outreach by the city and the programs put in place by the Newsom administration: supportive housing, Project Homeless Connect, and, my favorite, Homeward Bound, which gives people a bus ticket back whence they came---or wherever they have someone to help them on the other end.

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At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The city spends $250M annually (approx) and I do not see a solution in sight. Obviously we need a metric to measure how good the spending is doing. Are those receiving city funds to deal with the homeless problem (not street people) not forthcoming with how effective they have been?

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There is no final solution---unfortunate term!---to homelessness. All American cities can do is cope with it in a practical, humane manner.

I agree that the city needs to do a thorough review of how the money is spent. The Grand Jury?

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes time for this topic to be on the Grand Jury calendar for next year. While at it they should look into conflict of interest to those sitting on the City Entertainment Commission.


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