That San Francisco has a homelessness problem is not news — indeed, since Supervisor David Campos declared the situation a crisis last spring, six new Navigation Centers were approved in June, and the city's top health official endorsed the idea of safe-injection sites for intravenous drug user just last week. And while what is or is not the best approach to house San Francisco's roughly 7,000 homeless is hotly debated, the fact that many of those living on our streets are youths often goes overlooked. It's no small number, either, with the Examiner reporting that SF is home to 1,488 homeless youth as of last count.
"Youth" in this context is defined as the age group 18 to 24, with "children" being 17 and younger. San Francisco is certainly not alone in that is has a homeless youth population, but as a percentage of the general homeless population, San Francisco beats out all other major US cities in that 92 percent of our city's homeless youth are unsheltered — meaning approximately 1,370 are living on the street.
City officials have struggled to house this group for some time as many are hesitant to stay in shelters with adults for safety reasons. "They just don’t feel comfortable or safe in those much larger shelters with folks that are much older than them,” executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services Sherilyn Adams told the Ex. “My job is to ensure that young people are not lost in this conversation, that they are not invisible in the conversation about homelessness. Young people are an invisible — sometimes — part of the homeless population because they are good at hiding their homelessness because they want to fit in.”
The city is trying to address the issue, albeit slowly. Hoodline reports that a plan approved in 2007 called for the creation of 400 new homeless youth shelter beds by 2015, but with 2017 fast approaching that goal is less than halfway met. "It’s good to have aspirational goals,” Mara Blitzer of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development told Hoodline. “We’re making progress, it’s been slower than expected, but we’re committed to reaching our goal.”
The Examiner reports that as of November of last year there were just 402 transitional age youth housing units in San Francisco. Just like with shelter beds for the adult homeless population, that number falls far short of the need.
So what's the delay? Just like seemingly everything else in this city, it comes down to housing. “If we want to make more units available for transitional age youth, we need more housing,” Anne Romero of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development told Hoodline. In other words, the problem is not going away soon.