Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Homeward Bound, the Navigation Center, and "better outcomes"

Passengers board an Arcata-bound Greyhound bus at a station on Folsom St. in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. (Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)
Photo: Rachel Garner, SF Examiner

The recent Controller's report on the Navigation Center for the homeless has an odd critique of the Homeward Bound program:

The Homeward Bound program’s involvement with the Navigation Center is premised upon the assumption that clients will have greater success getting on the bus when they are housed overnight and given additional time and assistance to prepare for departure. However, because the Homeward Bound program does not track the outcomes for non‐Navigation Center clients, it is impossible to determine whether the Navigation Center contributes to better outcomes. Further, the data on page 15 of this report show that the Navigation Center has been increasingly used as a resource for Homeward Bound Clients (page 26).

On page 15 we learn that 38 homeless people have stayed for one or two nights in the five beds reserved in the Navigation Center for Homeward Bound clients before they get on a bus out of San Francisco. How is that not a "better outcome" than living on city streets or in city parks, which costs the city $80,000 a year?

According to the numbers provided in a recent SF Examiner story, since February, 2005, 9,917 of the city's homeless population have been given a bus ticket out of town at a total cost of $1,844,070. That works out to only $186 per person bused outahere, which is a bargain compared to the $16,000 per person the city spends to actually house the homeless that pass through the Navigation Center, as reported in an item in a recent Matier & Ross column (below).

Navigating the numbers: It cost San Francisco about $16,000 for each homeless person placed in permanent housing in the city through the highly praised Mission District Navigation Center during its first year-plus of operation.

That’s the big takeaway of a report by the city controller’s office that looked at the costs and benefits of the center — a different type of homeless shelter, one that takes in entire encampments and lets people sleep with partners, bring in all their possessions and even their pets, and gives them direct access to services designed to enable them to transition into permanent housing.

In a 13-month period starting in March 2015, 399 homeless people passed through its doors, the report found. Men outnumbered women by more than 2 to 1, and the median age was 43.

According to the report, close to half of those served by the Navigation Center — 168 people — were there only briefly before being put on buses out of town under Homeward Bound. That’s the long-standing city program under which a homeless person gets a free bus ticket if a friend or relative is waiting at the end of the line.

“These clients typically stay one to two days,” the report said, “and do not receive the same intensive case management services as other clients.”

Translation: Most of what the city spends at the Navigation Center doesn’t go toward them.

Those costs — amounting to $2.2 million in the 13 months studied, according to the report — are spent mainly on the people placed in permanent housing. There were 142 of those during the time the report looked at the Navigation Center — which comes to about $16,000 per placement.

A chronically homeless person on the street costs the city about $80,000 a year in emergency services, law enforcement expenses and the like, the city estimates. So $16,000 to get someone ready to go into supportive or affordable housing is a relative bargain.

But by no one’s definition is it cheap. Getting one chronically homeless person ready for housing costs taxpayers $2,600 more than it costs for a year’s worth of tuition and fees at the University of California.

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