Though we are still over a month away from the release of the finalized 2019 point-in-time homeless census that is mandated by the federal government, preliminary numbers for homeless populations across the Bay Area were released late Thursday.
The overall region saw a 29% percent jump in the number of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people since 2017, with the biggest increases seen in Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Alameda County saw a 43 percent rise in homelessness, and Santa Clara County saw a 31% increase.
San Francisco's homeless population, according to these preliminary numbers, rose from 6,858 to 8,011, an increase of 17%. And the percentage of those who are unsheltered in the city rose 20%, with much of that increase driven by individuals living in cars and RVs, as the Associated Press reports.
Per the Business Times, there were 25,739 homeless people across San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara Counties, up from 19,881 in 2017.
Local mayors issued statements following the release of the preliminary numbers, with SF Mayor London Breed saying, "The initial results of this count show we have more to do to provide more shelter, more exits from homelessness, and to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place."
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo issued a statement saying, "We all have a shared responsibility to address this crisis — every city and every neighborhood. That means we must house homeless neighbors here, not the proverbial ‘somewhere else.’” The city of San Jose saw its homeless population rise 43% in just two years, from 4,350 to 6,172.
The point-in-time counts, mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, occur every two years in January. And while the counts are widely criticized as being inaccurate — the method does not account for those who might be sleeping on a friend's couch, for instance — they provide a biannual baseline to gauge patterns of both sheltered and unsheltered homelessness in geographies across the country.
Many have pointed to the growing drug epidemics as partly to blame for swelling homeless populations, but the problem has alway been a complex one — and the number of homeless in San Francisco had actually been steady, or decreasing, over the last decade. San Francisco has not had a homeless population over 8,000 since 2004, as the Chronicle notes. Then mayor Gavin Newsom took on the crisis with his Care Not Cash initiative, responding to sentiments that San Francisco had become a magnet for homelessness because of its generous aid offerings. The ballot proposition, passed in 2002, removed money from the city's General Assistance program and shifted it toward shelters and other programs.
Now Governor Newsom has proposed a $650 million statewide fund to help build more emergency shelters, and a $20 million legal aid fund for those facing eviction, per the AP.
San Francisco's "homeless czar" Jeff Kositsky, the head of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, tells the Chronicle, "I’m really disappointed in these numbers. I can make no excuses. These numbers are bad, and we have to own that."
He points to the ways his department is addressing the rise in homeless people living in vehicles, with a proposed Vehicle Triage Center, not yet established, in which people could park temporarily and receive counseling about housing opportunities and other services.
Across California, homeless populations are on the rise, and San Francisco's 17 percent uptick since 2017 is modest by comparison. As the LA Times reports, "Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties all recorded percent increases in homelessness in the double digits for 2019," though Los Angeles still has not released its latest numbers.
"I know this count will discourage a lot of people, but it’s important to remember where we were last year," Breed tells the Chronicle. "We’ve helped 1,200 people out of homelessness since I came into office. We have made progress."