It’s ‘Homeless Week’ again in the local media, or the SF Homeless Project as they prefer to call it, and the Chronicle kicks things off with an analysis of the Homeward Bound project that simply gives people one-way tickets out of town.
It’s been 14 years since then-mayor Gavin Newsom initiated a program called Homeward Bound, a flattering and uplifting name for a program that gives unsheltered San Franciscans a one-way Greyhound bus ticket out of town and asks them to please never come back. And when you hear wonderful declarations about how many thousands of people the Department of Homelessness has gotten off the streets, realize that nearly half of them are just shipped out on a bus.
In the fourth annual installment of the SF Homeless Project, the Chronicle has taken a look at whether Homeward Bound actually works. They did find one incredible success story of an individual who went on to graduate from Yale and got accepted into grad school at Johns Hopkins. That is hardly typical, though; barely half of all Homeward Bound clients found housing elsewhere, as far as they can tell. (Sidebar: The paper also answered 89 common questions about homelessness and why homeless people are homeless, in case that should interest you.)
The Homeward Bound program (or the “Get your ass out of here” program, as one shelter resident described it to the Examiner) has resulted in 56% of its clients finding stable housing in 2018 and 2019. Another 23% did not respond, 13% were confirmed missing, and other single-digit percentages were either in jail, back homeless again, or even back in San Francisco.
But these numbers may be suspect. They only report what happened to the client in the first month after getting their bus ticket, with no long-term follow-up.
To put it in specific numbers, 262 people left town via the program in 2018-19. Of these, 125 were “living with a caretaker, such as a family member, friend or significant other,” and 24 had found their own place. That’s about 150 people off the streets of San Francisco in the last 18 months.
But as the Chronicle explains, that’s only half the story. “Thirty-five people either never showed up at their destinations or disappeared from their caretaker within a month,” says the Chron’s Trisha Thadani. “Six ended up in jail, four were homeless elsewhere in the country, and six returned to San Francisco — where it’s unclear whether they were homeless or housed. One never left.”
Another 61 people did not respond to follow-up calls, and their status is unknown.
The Homeward Bound program represents a mere $1.2 million drop in the bucket of San Francisco’s $285 million annual homeless budget. It helps a maybe a hundred people a year get back on their feet, but its success is modest. “It shouldn’t be counted as a homeless exit,” Coalition on Homelessness executive director Jennifer Friedenbach says frankly to the Chronicle. “It’s a bus ticket out of town.”
Related: The Bay Area May Not Have the Nation's Largest Homeless Population, But We Have The Most Unsheltered One
Mayor's Report Says 19,000 Homeless Off SF Streets, But 8,000 Were Just Bused Out Of Town
Image: Steven Damron via Flickr