How much has homelessness increased during the pandemic? We’ll have hard numbers soon, as Bay Area cities conduct their first official “homeless census” in three years.
Any San Franciscan who has previously volunteered in the “homeless census,” more formerly known as the homeless point-in-time count, probably did not do so this year. It already happened Wednesday night, and top of that, the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) pretty much nixed the idea of having volunteers this year — in their words, “limiting participation in the count to outreach workers and targeted volunteers.”
We really out here in San Francisco where there's homeless tents outside the LGBT center pic.twitter.com/D9HfOzfowx— Chenpai (@honkposter) February 20, 2022
Yet there is a general (though anecdotal) sense that homelessness in San Francisco, and really all Bay Area cities, has gotten worse during the pandemic. In the last two years, we have all seen tent encampments on medians and sidewalks where we had never seen such things before. But we have had no reliable numbers to back this up, because the biennial point-in-time count was canceled entirely in 2021 when COVID-19 deaths were at record levels, and then delayed for about a month in 2022 because of the Omicron surge.
By last count, conducted a full three years ago in January 2019, San Francisco was found to have 8,011 people living on the streets — a count that is always likely to be an undercount, given how individuals may be hidden away or taking temporary shelter with a friend. But the 2019 also used a different set of criteria than the 2017 count, excluding all those people temporarily housed in rehab facilities, hospitals, and jails. Had the city used the previous methodology, the county would have been closer to 9,800, which would have been a 30% uptick from two years prior.
I participated in last night’s Point-In-Time Count in San Francisco, the first since the pandemic hit. An accurate tally helps us direct more #CaBudget resources & legislate housing policies to prevent & address homelessness in CA. https://t.co/KQ9hzN4qpn— Asm Phil Ting (@AsmPhilTing) February 24, 2022
Around the region, the counts are finally happening again this week. Bay Area News Group reports that we’re finally conducting the first homeless point-in-time counts since 2019. San Francisco conducted theirs Wednesday night, Alameda County did theirs Wednesday morning, Santa Clara County's count is currently in progress, while Contra Costa and San Mateo counties will conduct their counts Thursday.
Good morning!— Hunter Funk (@hunterkfunk) February 24, 2022
Volunteers are out this morning conducting the Homeless Point-In-Time Count.
It helps identify he needs for the coty and county.
We’re following crews as they conduct this and are live @KSNNews on #KansasToday. pic.twitter.com/ArCPi0V6gO
They’re doing these counts all over the country, as the video seen above is from a count being conducted in Kansas. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires these counts every two years, to help determine funding allocations. As Bay Area News Group explains, “The results will influence everything from how much federal funding each county receives for homeless housing and services to how local aid organizations structure their programs.”
You can’t. And the result is that you get bad, arbitrary data, but we treat it like gospel truth.— Ray Bramson (@rbramson) February 24, 2022
Media and electeds run w/ stories and less people counted means a win, and more a failure. The Feds then add to this narrative by giving more money to places based on the results.
It is well-established that these counts are massively unreliable. But the counting methods are considered, well, the “least bad option,” though we probably are undercounting people significantly. Yet it's pretty much the same methodology as used in 2019 (though this year, Bay Area counters used an app instead of pen and paper), so we will have a solid comparison on the pandemic’s effect on homelessness. And are we sure that things are worse? Have San Francisco’s homeless hotels and Navigation Centers possibly put a dent in the problem?
We’ll know this summer, when the results of this count come in.
Image: darwinbell via Instagram