A targeted, one-on-one homeless outreach program in the Castro has gotten nearly half of the neighborhood’s “hard-core unhoused people” into shelter, and may be replicable elsewhere in the city — but requires significant staff and budget.
It was back in August when Castro shop owners started threatening to not pay their taxes because of persistent petty crime, vagrancy, and vandalism. And it’s not a stretch to say that many of these issues were connected to chronic homelessness in the neighborhood. So, four months prior, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and several city departments started coordinating a new pilot project, identifying 34 people long-term, chronically unhoused people in the neighborhood that folks have seen over and over, targeting individual resources and one-on-one attention to the most well known and service-resistant unsheltered regulars of the neighborhood
And today, the Chronicle checks in on the status of this new homeless outreach program, with a focus on a now-sheltered woman Victoria Solomon, but also the bigger-picture question of whether the relatively new approach is working.
"In the past five months, eight other hard-core unhoused people like Solomon have also been moved from the Castro into housing or residential treatment facilities," the Chronicle reports. "Seven more went into temporary shelters. And 19 of the 34 total agreed to regular treatment for medical, behavioral and other needs aimed at getting them off the street."
So of the 34 people, 15 are currently in some form of shelter that is not a tent on a Castro sidewalk.
Erica McGary is a peer worker in the Castro. Each day she engages the most high-risk individuals, builds relationships and connects people to medical and behavioral health support and other services, like shelter. She has successfully helped people into shelter and treatment. pic.twitter.com/KL8PXAzWdj— SFDPH (@SF_DPH) February 5, 2023
One staffer the Chronicle features is Erica McGary, a case manager with the SF Homeless Outreach Team who was formerly homeless herself. As the tweet above shows, the strategy here (as the Chronicle describes it) is to “swarm the Castro with whatever it takes to persuade the 34 people to get off the street.” This takes dedicated, daily attention to build relationships and trust with the individuals, which requires significant and skilled staffing — homeless individuals interviewed discussed dealing with too many people who "don't really give a damn," but they trusted McGary — and results that might take weeks or months to manifest.
Still, Mayor London Breed was encouraged enough by the Castro-specific pilot program that she touted it in last week’s State of City address. “Working with Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, we’ve finally started to see success in the Castro reaching people who’ve refused services for years,” Breed said in her speech. “That targeted, coordinated, consistent approach is working, and we will expand it to other neighborhoods.”
The thing is, other neighborhoods are different. The Castro is geographically smaller than other neighborhoods experiencing chronic homelessness issues, and Castro homelessness tends to concentrate near Castro Street itself. This may not be as replicable in the Tenderloin or SoMa, and for that matter, we don’t even know if it works for a period longer than the five months that this program has been in effect. And it’s a tough sell to expand a program requiring so much staffing during deficit times.
Still, there’s some value to the fact that this effort appears to be getting some results for now.
“I have actually noticed a few people are gone lately,” Cliff’s Variety co-owner Martha Asten told the Chronicle. “These kinds of efforts are cyclical, and I’ve seen them come and go. So we’ll see how this one works. But we can always hope.”
Note: A previous version of this post stated that this effort started in August 2022. The effort started in April 2022.
Image: @SF_emergency via Twitter