SF turns focus to supportive housing in efforts to combat homelessness 

click to enlarge supportive housing
  • Mike koozmin/the S.F. Examiner
  • Gail Gilman is executive director of Community Housing Partnership, which provides about 1,000 units of supportive housing. Her agency is working to free up more supportive housing for people who need it.
San Francisco’s approach to housing the homeless is the next focus for city officials who are re-examining the issue.

Today, Supervisor Mark Farrell will introduce a number of hearing requests to look at such city-funded services as supportive and below-market-rate housing, along with the emergency shelter bed system. It builds on his previous homeless hearing, as Farrell has emerged as the leader of the issue on the Board of Supervisors. He also intends to introduce hearings on homeless veterans as well as LGBT and youth residents.

It is not exactly clear what the end result will be of the talks. Farrell said he is waiting to see what happens.

“Let’s start talking about the issue; let’s start finding solutions,” he said.

One solution came after one city official called attention to a lack of investment in a homeless outreach team. Farrell then introduced a $1.3 million funding request to beef up the team.

Another concrete proposal being discussed is how to free up more supportive-housing units instead of having people occupy them long after they need the services.

Community Housing Partnership, one of the largest supportive-housing providers with 1,000 such units, is working on a plan that would free up 100 units annually each year starting in 2020. Currently, the vacancy rate at some properties is as low as 3 percent.

“About 10 percent of our portfolio, about 100 units a year, could be freed up if we worked more methodically with folks,” said executive director Gail Gilman. “We want to figure out a pathway for them to move out of supportive housing.”

The hope, according to Gilman, is to create a “housing ladder” into below-market-rate housing, public housing or market-rate opportunities.

Gilman said while a majority of the residents will always require supportive housing, there are those who would welcome a chance to move on.

“Our tenants want more housing options,” she said. “They don’t want to feel stuck. We also have a lot of restrictions on our housing.”

That includes that no single adult resident can have a partner or child live with them, and they have to be let into their building as they do not have keys to the entrance.

San Francisco has for the past 10 years maintained a consistent homeless population of about 6,000 despite a wide array of services and housing programs.

Many of those who are living on the streets have disabilities, mental health challenges and substance abuse problems, which is why the supportive-housing model is seen as effective since it provides specialized services.

The Human Services Agency oversees, in partnership with nonprofit housing providers like Community Housing Partnership, about 4,000 supportive-housing units. The Department of Public Health oversees 2,000 units. About 3,000 were created in the past 10 years.

A 2011 City Controller’s Office report said, “Supportive housing programs serving the most at-risk, chronically homeless populations result in a reduction in participants’ incarceration rates and utilization of emergency services, generating significant public cost savings.”

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