After making note of the $241 million the city now allocates to homeless services yearly, a figure published in the Chronicle that represents a new high, not to mention $84 million more than when Mayor Lee took office in 2011, a few commenters drew the following conclusions based on the roughly 7,000 homeless people who live here (6,686 according to the Homeless Point-In-Time Count & Survey).
"$241 million divided by 7,000 homeless is almost $35,000/year each person," Zach wrote. As cherylu2010 echoed, "So SF is spending $36,000 for each homeless person in the city ($241 million/6686 point in time counted homeless). Wow. That would be a full-time job making $17.65/hour. And yet, the number of homeless continues to increase. Wow."
There was more of that conception: disqus_Jv5dHRWE1V wrote similarly that "$241M for 7,000 homeless people? That amounts to more than $35,000 per person. We can't figure out how to house and feed someone for $35k a year!?? Someone should be fired."
However, the Chronicle's second in a series of homelessness myth-debunking articles sought to set the record straight.
First, much of that total $241 million figure goes to formerly homeless people in an effort to keep them housed. Consider it triage. $112 million is spent for supportive housing for the formerly homeless, and $27.2 million is spent on eviction prevention. So, yes, more than half of the money spent on the issue of homelessness... is to prevent more people from returning to homelessness. Or, put it another way, more than half of the money spent to combat homelessness is to prevent the problem from becoming larger.
Some homeless people do cost a great deal, far more than $35 or $36 thousand dollars a year. The Chron estimates that $87,480 might be spent on the sickest homeless person needing constant emergency care. Then again, another might receive no services at all. The average spent on someone in supportive housing, meanwhile, stands at $17,353.
And using the overall number of homeless people counted as the denominator in all of this? That's fraught, too. Even if 6,868 were exactly correct at one point, that number will grow and shrink at various times over any given year.
Last, by no means is this a good thing, but the other number that's hard to track is that $241 million itself. While some call on the city to allocate even more for homeless services, the current spending is spread across 400 contracts with 76 private organizations. It's not tracked by a single group, nor is it neatly subdivided by homeless person.
Yes, it would be simpler if so — but simple, homelessness is not.