On July 1st, much of San Francisco's spending on homelessness, a total of $241 million distributed among more than 400 contracts with 76 mostly nonprofit private organizations, will at long last be corralled under a single, new department. That city government arm, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, will be lead by Jeff Kositsky, formerly the executive director of the Hamilton Family Center. How he'll go about his new post will inevitably be subject to scrutiny, and Medium's tech-leaning blog Backchannel is positioning one of his supposedly controversial tactics as working with tech companies who are eager to address the homelessness crisis, a task at which he's succeeded in the past.
Kositsky's mandate is clear: Make good on Lee's pledge to take 8,000 people off the streets before his term is through. “To be able to bring all of those under the same department under a unified strategy to help really amplify Mayor Lee’s vision for addressing homelessness in San Francisco is an honor and an amazing opportunity," the Chronicle quoted Kositsky as saying earlier this month. For his work, Kositsky will make $205,000 a year. His department will consolidate the 2013 office created by Lee, Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement, which has been led by Sam Dodge. Dodge will now report to Kositsky, who will in turn report to Lee.
“This is going to be a huge accelerator in our ability to tackle homelessness,” Dodge told the Chron. “There will be so much more efficiency as we all row together in the same direction.”
Backchannel calls Kositsky a "tech-whispering" success for his previous work at Hamilton Family Center. In 2014, he took $1 million from Google to assist students reportedly at risk of becoming homeless. Now he says that two major tech companies (he won't say which) have asked to assist in his next endeavor. "This is the spirit of the tech community I’ve been working with since working at Hamilton,” Kositsky tells Backchannel. “I still believe that anti-tech dogma is counterproductive." That's the "dogma" that plagued him once word broke that he'd accepted the Google donation. “I absolutely got creamed on Facebook,” he said. Tying rental prices to high-salaried workers like those at Google and citing tax breaks to companies like Twitter, critics disdained the deal.
Kara Zordel, the director of Project Homeless Connect, is familiar with the complaint. “In the city, some people think that [tech companies are] the ones that have displaced people,” she says of technology companies. “But they don’t see the amount of volunteers and donations we’ve received [from the tech sector].”
Backchannel also got Bevan Dufty, Lee's former homelessness czar whom Dodge replaced, on the phone to discuss working with tech. “Google is in a very different stage where they’re branding themselves through social justice, while unicorns are stampeding, worried that the bubble is going to burst,” Dufty tells the blog. “Smaller startups that are fighting are much more likely to pay for dry cleaning for employees than underwrite a [residential] hotel,” and gift it to the city for homeless tenants. Since Dufty thinks this will fall to bigger companies, he reveals that his hope is for Twitter or rather its CEO Jack Dorsey to buy up some hotels for currently homeless San Franciscans to take occupancy.
Kositsky seems to also want to harness technological solutions themselves, such as tracking homeless San Franciscans, keeping records of their health issues and more. “Maybe we find out that a homeless single adult who’s experiencing a first incidence of homeless will do better off in X shelter, or with X intervention," he suggests. "That way the assessment tool is essentially making itself better.”
Such idea aren't new, at least for him. In 2006, Kositsky, who was then head of Community Housing Partnership, told the Chronicle that "In the end, it's not how much you spend that really counts, it's how effective that money is."