As announced last month in the New York Times, over 70 different media organizations in San Francisco, including SFist, are participating a broad-ranging effort this week to shine new lights on the issue of homelessness. While the project has been billed as being able to perhaps suggest new solutions, it may be more constructive to see this fresh flood of media coverage as a prod for politicians, and a way to educate those who are relatively new to San Francisco about a difficult problem that has remained virtually unchanged over the last three decades despite multiple mayoral approaches and many millions of dollars spent every year addressing it.

The Chronicle's Kevin Fagan has written this excellent piece summing up some of these past and current methods of housing the unhoused, and he notes, "San Francisco has been a national leader in getting people off the streets and into housing where they receive the counseling services they need." Also, "Since 2004, [the city] has put more than 22,000 people under roofs," and our annual budget for homelessness and supportive housing is $241 million.

Many people assume, however, that the constant visibility of homeless people on our streets and in tent cities is evidence of a lack of effort to shelter them. But as multiple San Francisco mayors have found, temporary shelter is no solution to a far deeper problem that's connected to how our society deals with the poor, how we deal with substance abuse, how we treat the mentally ill, and how, just in general, people's lives can become unstable and cities like ours are hotbeds of that instability. Also, something that makes homelessness so visible here is simple geography — the city is a confined, seven-by-seven-mile space with a temperate climate that makes living outdoors possible nearly year round.

The homepage for the SF Homeless Project is here, and below is the open letter that serves as a mission statement of sorts. Look for more coverage on the topic of homelessness here and elsewhere this week.

To the city and people of San Francisco:

Like you, we are frustrated, confused and dismayed by the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness in our city. Like you, we want answers — and change.

We see the misery around us — the 6,600 or more people who live on the streets of San Francisco — and we sense it is worsening. We feel for the people who live in doorways and under freeways, and for the countless others who teeter on the edge of eviction. We empathize with the EMTs, the nurses and doctors, the social workers and the police. They are on the front lines of this ongoing human catastrophe.

Numerous noble, well-intentioned efforts by both public and private entities have surfaced over the decades, yet the problem persists. It is a situation that would disgrace the government of any city. But in the technological and progressive capital of the nation, it is unconscionable.

So beginning today, more than 70 media organizations are taking the unprecedented step of working together to focus attention on this crucial issue.

We will pool our resources — reporting, data analysis, photojournalism, video, websites — and starting June 29, will publish, broadcast and share a series of stories across all of our outlets. We intend to explore possible solutions, their costs and viability.

Though this is a united effort, we do not claim to speak with one voice. There are many lenses through which the issue of homelessness can be viewed. However, we do not intend to let a desire for the perfect solution become the enemy of the good. We want to inspire and incite each other as much as we want to prod city and civic leaders.

Fundamentally, we are driven by the desire to stop calling what we see on our streets the new normal. Frustration and resignation are not a healthy psyche for a city.

Our aim is to provide you with the necessary information and potential options to put San Francisco on a better path. Then it will be up to all of us — citizens, activists, public and private agencies, politicians — to work together to get there.


The SF Homeless Project