The Need for an Effective Policy towards Homelessness

Anonymous's picture

Before crafting a comprehensive and long-range strategy to target homelessness, it helps to be familiar with its history in San Francisco. 

A combination of historical forces in the 1980s led to its gradual assimilation into the city's "culture" - social, economic and cultural transformations coupled with the popularity of new drugs and the influx of Vietnam veterans all played a part in shaping San Francisco's liberal character which attracts a lot of 'drifters'. Currently, homelessness is intensified by the closure of mental hospitals, inadequacies in the prison system, and lack of affordable housing. The general policy solution advocated by former officials range from aggressive criminalization of the homeless to investment in "supportive housing initiatives",  health and treatment services and the payment of cash welfare benefits. But do these suffice?
The first step is to acknowledge the ideological conflict regarding how "homelessness" is framed in order to arrive at a general consensus on how to create a practical homeless policy. Homelessness is not an isolated, discrete problem but is inseparable from issues of poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, gentrification, stagnant wage growth, etc.
Any ideas?


JoshuaJames's picture

San Francisco Transbay Terminal Homeless Failure

Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay CitizenHi Maria, While the problems afflicting San Francisco's homeless population are certainly many, I think we need to make sure the city isn't adding to them with it's "relocation" programs. Here's an example of what not to do:

According to an article in The Bay Citizen, about 100 homeless lived in and around around the old SF Transbay Terminal (currently being demolished and rebuilt). After botching the relocation services to this population, they basically inflated the numbers to make it appear that they helped more homeless people than they did! It's pretty unbelievable and sad.  

I don't know what the answers are to problems like these, but I think it's a good start that people are aware of what's going on, as well as what they can do to help.

The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness has a number of fact sheets on the topic.

-Photo Courtesy of Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen

Maria Balilo's picture

SF needs a comprehensive strategy to combat homelessness

Another way to think of solutions is to compare how homelessness is managed in other cities. It's interesting that New York spends $1 billion/year on the homeless, and with that amount of funding, they successfully cleared out many of them in the past decade. Such 'success' in fixing homelessness is attributed to their "comprehensive" strategy aka a 10-year-plan. New York was able to tap into a variety of federal and state funds - shifting some homeless off local rolls into national programs such as Supplemental Security Income, and capturing more grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

How homelessness is framed in San Francisco is really politically charged, which prevents officials from coming together and coordinating a unified 10-year-plan (like NY and LA) with concrete goals that will address the problem of homelessness. It seems solutions are always short-term [criminalization] or fail to address the root cause of the issue [Newsom's Care not Cash policy].

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137