Friday, July 01, 2016

Are the homeless really "San Franciscans"?

From Leah Garchik's column on Wednesday:

And even if we ascertain that tents are their "homes" and blankets their furniture, I'm put off by the two-word phrase "the homeless," which The Chronicle has aimed to avoid in its current series of stories. The "the," which turns what should be a modifier into a noun, wraps human neediness into a neat (and) ignorable package. The people who sleep in the streets, who lie on the sidewalks and lean against fences, are homeless San Franciscans.

Well, that depends on your definition of "San Franciscan." 

(And "the" is our definite article. Using "the homeless" phrase may wrap the homeless into a "neat" grammatical package, but it doesn't imply ignoring them.)

It's been an open question for years: who are the homeless, where do they come from, and how long have they been here? 

A new count of the homeless, released earlier this week, tallied a 2 percent rise from two years ago---from 6,248 to 6,377 people. After the one-night count on Jan. 31, in a follow-up survey of homeless people, 31 percent noted that they became homeless outside San Francisco. "That is close to a third of the people we counted," says Trent Rhorer, director of the San Francisco Human Services Agency. "It begs the question of why they came here; I don't know that the answer is necessarily one of homelessness"...

In recent years, amid a long-vaunted tradition of generosity to the down and out, San Francisco found itself saddled with an outsize reputation of being overly friendly to the homeless. "There's an impression we've created of free money," Rhorer says. "We get a lot of people who come here and say, 'It's not working, but now I have no job and no money and no way to get home.' "

Note the 6,377 homeless count in 2007 is pretty much the same as the 2015 count of 6,686 (2015 Homeless Survey, page 17), which is probably why homelessness is again of major concern to the public. It never seems to get much better. I think homelessness is here to stay, like terrorism by adherents of The Religion of Peace.

Homelessness was a major public concern back in 2004, but it faded as an issue for years, as Care Not Cash, Project Homeless Connect, supportive housing, and Homeward Bound implemented by Mayor Newsom seemed to be having an effect. 

The latest Chamber of Commerce poll finds it back as a top public concern. This seems to be because the homeless are more visible now---e.g., the tent encampments on Division Street---not that there are more homeless in the city.

The 2015 count report tried to quantify how long homeless people have been in San Francisco using a survey filled out by the homeless themselves---or maybe "administered" means those conducting the count asked the questions and recorded the answers:

Surveys were administered to a randomized sample of homeless individuals between February 1 and February 19, 2015. This effort resulted in 1,027 complete and unique surveys. Based on the Point-in-Time Count of 7,539 homeless persons, with a randomized survey sampling process, these 1,027 valid surveys represent a confidence interval of +/- 3% with a 95% confidence level when generalizing the results of the survey to the estimated population of homeless individuals in San Francisco (page 27).

But the "confidence" that we have in the results of this survey must be limited, since only 14% of the homeless counted took part in the survey. 

Just as important: why should what the homeless themselves say about how long they've been here be particularly credible? After all, a city worker or a city volunteer is asking the questions. Homeless people hoping to get housing or other services might assume it's in their interest to exaggerate how long they've been in the city:

Seventy-one percent (71%) of respondents reported they were living in San Francisco at the time they most recently became homeless, an increase from 61% in 2013. Of those, nearly half (49%) had lived in San Francisco for 10 years or more. Eleven percent (11%) had lived in San Francisco for less than one year. 

Ten percent (10%) of respondents reported they were living out of state at the time they lost their housing. Nineteen percent (19%) reported they were living in another county in California. Six percent (6%) reported they were living in Alameda County at the time, 3% San Mateo, 2% Marin, 2% Contra Costa and 1% Santa Clara County (page 33).

Not particularly credible. Good enough for Tim Redmond and Calvin Welch, but San Francisco progressives have never been credible on homelessness.

See also Homelessness in San Francisco: Ten Years Later

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