SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A group of 80 volunteers went into the Mission District to talk one-on-one with people living on the streets. The San Francisco Latino Task Force’s volunteers convinced more than 100 unsheltered men and women to answer a survey of personal questions.
The Street Needs Assessment Committee asked questions shedding light on each individual’s life history, struggles, and current grim reality. Survey questions also sought to dispel myths about homelessness in San Francisco.
With “passionate curiosity,” the survey team interviewed people living in tents, in cars, and on patches of pavement from Division to Cesar Chavez streets, as well as from Guerrero to Potrero.
The survey team compiled its data into a report released this week, along with recommendations for how the city can improve its homelessness policies and services.
The vast majority of people interviewed said they are not living on the streets by choice, but rather, as a last resort. “The idea that unhoused individuals do not want housing is delusional. Ninety-three percent of individuals said safe housing that they can afford is their most important need,” said Larisa Pedroncelli, SNAC co-chair.
Where homeless people in SF come from
According to the report, 85 percent of unsheltered people in the Mission have San Francisco “roots,” including 20 percent who grew up in the city, and 30 percent who have family in the area.
SNAC co-chair Francisco Herrera said, “Contrary to popular belief, the unhoused really are our neighbors, part of our community. They were born here, raised here, went to school here.”
At some point along the road of life, they took a wrong turn, and getting back on the right path was difficult without basic necessities such as shelter, access to a shower, and clothing.
“They are marginalized and treated as an eyesore,” Herrera said.
While the street assessment team did not encounter any children during the survey, they did encounter unhoused parents whose children attend school in San Francisco.
The impact of homeless “sweeps”
The Street Needs Assessment Committee said it is important to remember that when the city conducts “sweeps” demolishing encampments, people living in extreme poverty are losing the few possessions they have left.
One man who was homeless in the Mission for three years said, “The sweeps were cruel. Many times my tent, backpack, and medications were taken and trashed by San Francisco public works crews. I have to take daily medications to protect my life and stabilize my health.”
According to the report, “Unhoused people are usually clinging to what little they have left. They carry around their identification, important documents, and survival gear such as warm clothing, shelter, and tarps. The loss of these critical belongings is often understandably devastating.”
Of the individuals surveyed, 38.3 percent were sleeping “rough,” meaning, without any shelter on a public sidewalk or in a park.
People surveyed said they no longer live in tents because it makes them more vulnerable to city sweeps.
“Perceived as an irritating visual representation of homelessness to neighbors and city officials, city operations have become hyper-focused on the counting of tents and targeting of them for removal,” the report states.
Life on the streets is also lonely. Sixty-three percent of people surveyed were living entirely alone, without the support of a companion such as a friend, partner, or even a pet.
What the report recommended to the city:
- Remove barriers to housing services:
“Survey responses reveal an extremely high number of the unhoused not yet on a waiting list for coordinated entry to shelter or housing – more than 83%. And yet nearly100% of those surveyed affirmed their continued search for access to supportive housing and services. Testimonies repeatedly pointed to the city’s failure to provide a “no wrong door” system of access – a scenario where no matter what organization an unhoused person might approach seeking services of any kind, it could become the beginning of their journey into housing. The need for this kind of wide-open accessibility was clearly identified as a dire problem requiring an immediate solution.”
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2. Improve safety at shelters:
“Shelters are perceived by many as unsafe congregate settings that lack proper oversight and culturally responsive support systems. The failure to provide safe and culturally-appropriate shelters creates a perception of danger for many that can result in our unhoused neighbors choosing to stay on the street, especially when considered in the context of some very real threats that are often experienced in these settings such as physical and psychological abuse.”
3. Change or stop the sweeps:
“It is the strong opinion of this committee that both common decency and common sense would dictate that using the police and other city agencies to push the unhoused from their sidewalk locations and other resting places without offering them housing or another meaningful alternative is bad practice. This behavior only layers further trauma and hardship onto human beings who are already deeply suffering. The practice also wastes city dollars to resource this ineffectual strategy, as the displaced individuals, having nowhere else to go and … often simply return to the same spot shortly after or move one block away and resettle.”