Friday, October 30, 2015

Is City Hall "neglecting" the homeless?

The Chronicle's recent editorial (City Hall's neglect must end) raising the alarm about homelessness is confused, not about raising the alarm but about the recent history of homelessness in San Francisco:

San Francisco's leadership has neglected the city's homeless problem for years---and now it's reached a crisis point. Homelessness is not a new problem in San Francisco. For decades, it's evaded the best efforts of a succession of mayors, including those who believed they had bulletproof solutions.

Which is it? Have mayors neglected the homeless issue or have they tried and failed to solve the problem? I don't recall a single mayor who claimed to have a "bulletproof" solution to homelessness. A look at the Chronicle's archives on homelessness shows that it emerged as an important issue in the 1980s when Dianne Feinstein was mayor.

The problem with the Chronicle's editorial is that it doesn't acknowledge that homelessness has been a national problem for years:

This is a homegrown problem that's been exacerbated by the city's economic boom. Seventy-one percent of the homeless population were individuals living in San Francisco when they became homeless, according to January's count. 

For the 71% conclusion, the Chronicle editorial is relying on an earlier Chronicle story that in turn relied on this year's Homeless Count Report that discusses a survey of a limited number of homeless people (page 27). But that survey is only about what the homeless themselves say about where they come from and how long they've been here, fostering the "common belief" that the homeless are long-time city residents fallen on hard times. 

In truth San Francisco has long been a destination for the marginal and the potentially homeless, which the Chronicle itself has reported in the past.

Elsewhere in that recent Chronicle story on homelessness, there are numbers showing that Mayor Lee and City Hall haven't been twiddling their thumbs on homelessness since 2011:

Since January 2011, when Lee took office, the city has placed 3,551 homeless people in supportive housing. It is gradually adding to that stock of housing, with another 500 slots scheduled to open this fall. In that same time span, 3,432 people have been sent home with a free bus ticket to willing friends and family under the Homeward Bound program.That means 6,983 people have been moved off the streets in five years — more than the entire current homeless population. In the last dozen years, using the same strategies, the city has moved 21,000 homeless people off the streets — think of moving half of a capacity crowd at AT&T Park. The city reports it has been especially successful housing homeless veterans and the chronically homeless who have been on the streets for years.

By definition the 3,342 homeless bused out of the city by the Homeward Bound program were not from San Francisco, and I suspect almost all of the others are relatively recent arrivals, since the city is a destination for both high-end tourists and the marginal and the soon-to-be homeless.

The homeless numbers don't show a radical increase in the homeless (see the graphic above), but now they are more visible, often gathering in hard-to-ignore encampments: 

"Pockets where people would hide and be out of sight are no longer available," said District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen. "It is forcing people to come out of the shadows."

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The dog ate the boycotts

Jacob Goretski
Thanks to Harry's Place.

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