S.F. homeless count: Mixed results, mixed reaction 

A survey of San Francisco’s homeless population released Wednesday reveals that despite The City’s efforts to put homeless persons in permanent housing or send them back to hometowns, thousands more emerge in their place.

Required biennially by federal law, San Francisco last counted its homeless population in January 2005 — arriving at a total of 6,248, including homeless people in emergency shelters, hospitals, treatment centers and jail, as well as those on the street. The 2007 count, conducted mostly during a four-hour evening time frame on Jan. 31, identified 6,377 homeless persons.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was elected in 2003 partly on a pledge to end chronic homelessness, touted the 2007 total as a 38 percent drop from the 8,640 homeless persons counted in 2002 and proof that a number of initiatives he has launched to address homelessness were working.

He also acknowledged that the numbers "make clear that homelessness remains a serious problem … work remains to be done."

Since January 2004, San Francisco has placed 2,907 homeless individuals into permanent housing, according to city data through Newsom’s Care Not Cash program, which significantly reduces a homeless person’s general assistance check in exchange for housing. During the same time span, The City provided another 1,864 homeless persons with paid transportation to leave San Francisco and go to places where they have friends or family. Last fall, city officials also cracked down on homeless persons sleeping in Golden Gate Park.

The 2007 report reveals that two-thirds of San Francisco’s homeless become transients while in The City and that although more than 5,000 individuals moved into housing or left San Francisco since 2004, more than 3,400 persons took their place.

Homeless advocates have challenged the accuracy and the methodology of the counts, saying the number of people living on the streets or in parks, squatting in abandoned buildings or squashed into overcrowded single-room-occupancy units is much higher than city reports.

This year the total number of homeless persons counted increased by 2 percent, which city officials said represented a more comprehensive effort to count homeless persons in all neighborhoods and areas such as freeway onramps — although in past years, final numbers were adjusted to include estimates in the uncovered areas.

Juan Prada, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, said there were more homeless persons in The City than were counted in the survey, pointing out that surveyors were told not to go into abandoned buildings and densely wooded areas, among other places. According to the report, law enforcement agencies were given the responsibility of conducting counts in those areas.

"In order to meaningfully address homelessness, you have to go to the root causes: extreme poverty and the lack of affordable housing," Prada said.

Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency, said The City is proud of the work that’s been done so far and will continue to not only work on extending services and housing to homeless people, but will also "address aggressive panhandling and other illegal street behavior by providing services to these individuals through the context of a court system."

The new court system, modeled after a program in New York, will start this summer in the Tenderloin, according to city officials.


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Bonnie Eslinger

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