It’s probably not going to change our city’s reputational stereotypes, but Sacramento now has a larger homelessness problem than SF, and a higher percentage of unsheltered people living there.
San Francisco certainly has long had the reputation of having the worst homelessness problem in the country, though by sheer numbers, we don’t have anywhere near the largest homeless population. New York and Los Angeles have vastly larger homeless populations — which stands to reason given those cities have much higher populations in general — and even San Jose technically has more unhoused people than San Francisco. The homeless populations are just not as visible in those other cities’ tourist areas and their nicer neighborhoods.
Also, as homeless advocates have long explained about our densely developed, local situation, there just aren't as many places to hide/camp as there used to be.
The Chronicle this week points to a new variable that might also change perceptions about homelessness. Based on the most recent homeless point-in-time counts, Sacramento now has a larger homeless population than San Francisco.
“Within the city limits of Sacramento, just over 5,000 unsheltered people — those living in vehicles and tents — were counted in a new homelessness report, compared with about 4,400 people in San Francisco,” the Chronicle reports. “But with Sacramento’s population of 525,000 versus San Francisco’s 874,000, that works out to a rate of 952 per 100,000 in Sacramento versus 503 per 100,000 for San Francisco.”
There’s a very large asterisk here, as they say “city limits.” San Francisco is a county, whereas that analysis only counts the city of Sacramento. But extending the analysis countywide for both counties, Sacramento County again has a larger homeless population.
Sacramento County's overall homeless population, which includes all the unincorporated areas and suburbs around the city and includes people living in temporary shelters as well as those totally unhoused, was up 67% in the last count since 2019, to 9,278 people this year. SF's overall homeless number, including the sheltered and unsheltered, dropped 3.5% this year to 7,754 — and again that is for the same land area as the city count, versus Sacramento County's.
Part of this is just because our homeless population declined during the pandemic, and part of it because Sacramento is becoming more expensive and more people are being evicted. Also, the latest homeless census numbers suggest that some homeless individuals may have migrated to the East Bay in the last two years, where homeless counts rose considerably when SF's dropped. But it’s an encouraging sign that SF’s recent efforts to reduce homelessness are, after decades of failure, showing signs of actually working.
Photo: Stephen Leonardi