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More Than 10,000 People Sought Homeless Services in SF Last Year, a 40% Jump Over 2019

  • California released a new dashboard tracking the number of people accessing homeless services in most counties in the state

  • In 2020, San Francisco saw a 40% increase to 10,634 people accessing homeless services, the largest percentage increase of any Bay Area county

  • The data doesn't capture unhoused people not accessing services, nor some veterans or victims of domestic violence, so it's not totally comprehensive

  • State and local officials hope to use the data to better track and coordinate services

The number of people accessing homeless services in San Francisco jumped 40% last year, and has climbed steadily each year since 2017, according to new data released by the state.

The data was compiled in the Homeless Data Integration System, a new publicly accessible portal that went live on Wednesday. In San Francisco, 10,634 people accessed services related to homelessness in 2020, of which 6,812 were solo individuals and 3,909 people in families with children.

San Francisco recorded the largest percentage increase of any Bay Area county included in the state's dashboard. Neighboring Alameda and Solano counties also saw significant percentage increases, at 23% and 19% respectively. Statewide, the number of people seeking services rose 5% to 248,130.

“You can’t fix what you can’t measure, and having a statewide data system will help us determine what’s working and what isn’t, important insight we can use to create accountability and strengthen our response going forward,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in a press release.

California's Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council developed the dashboard by gathering data from Continuums of Care, or county-level, local service networks that assist unhoused people. California’s homelessness response system consists of numerous services ranging from prevention and crisis response to health and other forms of support, all with the ultimate goal of placing people in permanent housing. More than 91,000 people exited homelessness last year through permanent housing placements, according to the dashboard.

The data doesn't capture people who aren't accessing services, or are doing so through certain domestic violence or veterans programs, so it's not a comprehensive accounting of homelessness in the state. And because services have expanded or evolved over time, the number of people accessing services may not track exactly with the number of actual unhoused individuals.

Nonetheless, state and local officials hope to use the data to better measure, coordinate and allocate resources among homeless services going forward. Over time, the dashboard will also wrap in data from other programs that serve unhoused individuals, such as CalFresh and CalWORKS.

“Having statewide, comprehensive data means we can target programs and funding more effectively. This is a tool that will help us hold state and local governments accountable for addressing our homelessness crisis," said Assemblymember David Chiu, who chairs the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.

The new database comes about two months after California's lead auditor, Elaine Howle, published a report criticizing the state's "disjointed" response to homelessness. California has spent about $13 billion tackling homelessness since 2017, but lacks a centralized system for issuing guidance evaluating success. At least nine state agencies administer 21 different programs that address homelessness, according to the report. In addition, the audit found that some local Continuums of Care do not employ best practices in improving services.

On Thursday, Mayor London Breed appointed Shireen McSpadden, who currently leads San Francisco's Department of Disability and Aging Services, as the new Director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH). The prior head, Abigail Stewart-Kahn, announced her departure late last month.

Joining McSpadden at HSH are Noelle Simmons, now Deputy Director at the Human Services Agency, and Cynthia Nagendra, now Executive Director at the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative. Nagnedra will lead long-range planning efforts at the department, according to the Mayor's office.

In San Francisco, the demographics of people seeking homeless services were around 60% male, and 45% Black or African American. Ten percent identified as veterans, 52% reported disabling conditions, and 24% reported having experienced domestic violence. Roughly 25% were under 18.

Last July, Breed announced a Homeless Recovery Plan, which aims to significantly expand permanent supportive housing in San Francisco, add capacity in the shelter system, and boost prevention measures such as short-term rental subsidies.

The $500 million plan will be financed through a patchwork of federal, state and local funds. Those funds include FEMA reimbursement for emergency shelter initiatives, recently unlocked funds from the 2018 Proposition C measure, and a Health and Recovery General Obligation Bond (Proposition A), which voters approved in November 2020.


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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