(BCN) — In June 2022, a newly enacted city ordinance announced: “It shall be the policy of the City to offer to every person experiencing homelessness in San Francisco a safe place to sleep.”
On Friday, less than a year later, the mayor is set to announce a five-year strategic plan intended to comprehensively address homelessness in San Francisco. But if that plan is successfully implemented, the city policy may need to be restated to change the words “every person” to “every other person,” because the plan only proposes to reduce the unsheltered population by half.
The plan was prepared by the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), the city’s lead agency on issues of unsheltered homelessness, and is entitled “Home by the Bay, An Equity-Driven Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in San Francisco.”
The plan provides that by spending $607 million in new funding over five years, the city can cut unsheltered homelessness by 50 percent by the end of 2028. Thereafter, it will take $217 million a year to maintain those gains.
All of the plan’s spending is on top of the roughly $650 million the city is already spending annually on homelessness. The plan does not explain why it seemingly ignores the policy declared in last June’s ordinance.
The Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance unanimously and it was signed into law by Mayor London Breed 10 days later. There were 4,397 unsheltered individuals living on city streets at the last count.
If the number were to be cut in half, the city would still have roughly 2,200 on the street at the end of the fifth year of the plan. None of the plan’s five primary goals mention eliminating the other 50 percent of the unsheltered population, who will apparently continue to live on the street.
The city’s shelter bed shortage has caused other problems. Pending litigation in federal court has resulted in an injunction preventing the city from clearing tent encampments while there is a shortfall in shelter beds. The city has appealed the injunction.
In response to a press inquiry about whether members of the Board of Supervisors support the plan, Shireen McSpadden, HSH’s executive director, said they had received it and HSH was responding to the supervisors’ questions. She downplayed the idea that there might be a disagreement.
“We’re more on the same page than a lot of people think. We know we need more shelter,” McSpadden said.
On Wednesday, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman called on the mayor to fund 2,000 new shelter beds in the next two years. The plan proposes adding 1,075 new shelter beds over the life of the plan, only 700 of which would be added in the first two years.
Mandelman has repeatedly criticized HSH for not treating the problem of people living on the street with sufficient urgency. A potential hot button is the plan’s proposal to add 3,250 units of permanent housing, three times more than the number of shelter beds to be added. HSH believes that without more permanent beds, individuals in shelter have no way to exit homelessness.
Mandelman has previously challenged HSH for prioritizing permanent supportive housing over shelter beds. Mandelman has suggested that HSH’s approach makes city sidewalks a “waiting room” for permanent housing.
The ordinance that declared that it was the city’s policy to provide a safe place for everyone to sleep directed HSH to prepare a plan to eliminate unsheltered homelessness in three years. While HSH submitted a paper in response, it declined to propose an implementation plan. In its opinion, it would cost the city $1.45 billion over three years to bring the unsheltered count to zero, but even with the money and the time, HSH said it couldn’t actually do it because of difficulties in obtaining sites and building capacity.
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HSH’s response led Mandelman to question publicly whether HSH was the right agency to spearhead a push to end unsheltered people on city streets. Based on an initial review of the plan, Mandelman said that he was encouraged that the plan “emphasizes the importance of addressing unsheltered homeless,” but he remains concerned that HSH is planning to “over-invest in permanent supportive housing and under-invest in shelter.”
Mandelman called on the mayor to consider directing the city’s Department of Emergency Management, rather than HSH, to administer the new shelter expansion. In the end, it may not matter which agency is given the assignment.
Even though HSH has touted the strategic plan as “bold but achievable,” the department admits that the “financial resources necessary to achieve these goals are not yet secured.”
It explained: “it is our hope that the act of setting aspirational goals will galvanize our local officials, our state and federal partners, and our private funders to redouble their efforts to create the housing and services programs we need to succeed.”
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