Following the quiet Friday release of the new point-in-time homeless census for San Francisco, it's come to light — after people carefully read the full report and its appendices — that the count is actually not an apples-to-apples comparison of the 2017 number. And this means that the city's homeless population has increased 30%, not 17% as previously reported.
The reason for the discrepancy comes in who was counted as homeless. San Francisco has, in the past, used a broader definition that includes people in rehab facilities, hospitals, and jail, however the federal guidelines for the point-in-time count don't actually include those temporarily housed populations. This year, for the first time, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing decided to hew to the federal guideline in order to better compare the city's homeless number with those of other cities in the region and state — a detail that was not revealed in the executive summary, but was revealed in an appendix of the full 2019 report.
Jeff Kositsky, the head of the department, tells the Chronicle that this was not done for political or deceptive purposes. "We just have decided for practical purposes we are going to stick with the HUD definition and do the rest of the numbers in an appendix," he says. "It’s not an effort to game anything."
But the discrepancy between the two numbers — 8,011 and 9,784 — has been called out by the Coalition on Homelessness and others, because the larger number is the one that needs to be used for comparison with the 2017 count, which was 7,499. The difference is 30%, which is more in line with the large jumps seen around the region for 2019 — 30% in Santa Clara County, and 43% in Alameda County, with a regional average of 29%. The smaller number, however, can now be compared to those in other cities, which do not count those in jail, rehab, or hospitals.
Kositsky further says that the public doesn't particularly care about these particulars as much as they care about what is being done about the problem — which actually is more of a national and state one, and not one that is particularly worse in San Francisco, though it is more visible because of where the homeless are concentrated here. He pointed to the city's plan for a Vehicle Triage Center, set to open in SF in the coming year, which will be focused on corralling those living out of cars and RVs in a single location.
Meanwhile, despite some pushback by the mayor, the Board of Supervisors is moving toward creating a commission that will oversee the work of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. As the Chronicle notes, it's one of the only city departments that doesn't have such a commission — the police, Fire Department, and Planning Department all have them, for instance — and such a body would be responsible for weighing the priorities of the city against those of residents and homeless individuals.
Photo: Coalition on Homelessness/Facebook