Mayor Ed Lee's progress report on homelessness was released Thursday—and if you've got a few hours to kill, you can read the 40-page document here—but one of the city's biggest accomplishments is worth further examination.
The report touts that 19,000 homeless people have left the streets over the past 10 years, but if you look closely at that number, you'll find that 8,000 of those were just given a bus ticket out of town.
It's called the Homeward Bound program (see page one of the executive summary) and is also referred to in the report as "family reunification." Former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, the director of HOPE (Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement) at the Mayor's Office, confirmed to SFist that the 8,000 figure is correct.
Dufty said Homeward Bound connects homeless people with family members who are willing to take them in, after which, the city gives them a bus ticket to relocate to their new home. Depending on the length of the journey, the city also kicks in some meal vouchers. Based on city data, Dufty said it's estimated that less than 24 people who have participated in Homeward Bound have returned to S.F. streets and accessed homeless services. (Hawaii has a similar program where they'll give one-way plane tickets to the mainland to any homeless person.)
Longtime San Francisco homeless advocate and Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness Jennifer Friedenbach called it "ridiculous" to claim those 8,000 relocations as a success and a form of housing. Though the report states that the other 11,362 people counted in the 19,000 figure are living in city-supported housing, she said that "homeless housing has significantly slowed down under Mayor Lee."
"Unless something new and aggressive is done, we'll stay in a holding pattern," Friedenbach said. She added that the number of "chronically homeless," which the city reports as being reduced from 4,039 in 2009 to just under 2,000 in 2013, is getting "higher and higher" among those who did not get housing as part of city initiatives. Friedenbach said a lack of mental and physical care programs, which were reduced in 2007 as a result of the recession, has exacerbated the problem. There are a total of 6,436 homeless people in S.F., according to a 2013 count.
Friedenbach said Lee's pledge to create 30,000 new housing units in S.F. over the next 20 years, of which 30 percent of are expected to be considered "affordable housing", may not benefit the homeless if the area median income (AMI) range allotted for those units exceeds 20 percent. For example, if the AMI is defined as $100,000, people earning within 0 to 20 percent of that would be the extremely low income and, often, homeless. If affordable housing is allocated to people earning more than 20 percent of the AMI, which is much of San Francisco's disappearing middle-class, that would reduce the number of units available to the homeless.
SFist has asked the Mayor's Office to comment on its affordable housing plan and is waiting to hear back.
Previously: City's Homeless Census Finds A Shift In Demographics