A new report shows that both Oakland and Los Angeles have higher rates of homelessness than San Francisco, but it's still telling that California has the top five highest homelessness rates among major U.S. cities.
If I were San Francisco Mayor London Breed, I would be making a much bigger deal over the fact that SF homelessness has decreased under my watch more than it has under any San Francisco mayor in 18 years, possibly longer. And I would be showing people the chart below, showing a larger decrease in the SF homeless population over the last two years than any achieved under the Gavin Newsom or Ed Lee administrations. (Lee saw a smaller but similar decrease from 2013-15, but it quickly reversed in the final year of his term, and that trend continued during Breed’s first year in office. But still!)
Yes, homelessness is still absolutely out of control in this city. But SF is one of the few U.S. cities to effectively decrease its homelessness rate since the pandemic hit, whereas homelessness has become more prevalent in many comparably sized cities. That’s according to a new Chronicle report, which says that SF now only has the third highest homelessness rate in California, behind Oakland and Los Angeles. Yet nationwide, California still has the top five cities for homelessness rates.
ICYMI: S.F. doesn’t have the highest homelessness rates in California, according to a new city controller report. It’s actually Oakland and Los Angeles—and Oakland’s rate far surpasses San Francisco's. https://t.co/L62XsZs6DI— SFNext (@SFNext) July 27, 2023
This information comes from a new 35-page report from the city controller comparing U.S. cities’ homelessness rates. “Jurisdictions in California, including Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley had the highest count of persons experiencing homelessness per 100,000 residents in 2022 compared to peers,” the report says. “While nearly all peer jurisdictions in California saw increases in homelessness during the pandemic, San Francisco and Berkeley both reported a decrease in overall homelessness (3% and 5% respectively) from 2019 to 2022.”
The breakdown is seen above, which measures homelessness rates (that is, averages of unhoused individuals per 100,000 residents). And again, California has the top five cities on this list, and six of the top ten.
But look at SF's mighty 3% decrease in our homelessness rate over the last three years! OK yes that is the smallest decrease of any comparable U.S. city that experienced a decrease in homelessness over this period. But SF is still one of the lucky cities on the right end of this trend, and given the decades-long persistence of this problem, that's an accomplishment we’ve rarely enjoyed.
There are still visible warts for San Francisco in the overall findings. As the Chronicle explains, “San Francisco fared worse than other California cities in certain areas, such as youth homelessness, but came out better in other metrics including the percentages of families experiencing homelessness, people living unsheltered in vehicles or on the streets, and chronically [homeless people].”
The west coast fares far worse than the east coast in these comparisons. And that may be because of weather, or rather, policies based on weather. Many cities that have brutal winters are “Right to shelter” towns, where cities are obligated to provide enough shelter beds for everyone. Supervisor Rafael Mandelman is pushing to implement a similar policy here, and that debate continues.
But the real kicker is a stunning statistic buried on Page 8, and again, really calls out the state of California. “In 2022, the state accounted for half of all unsheltered individuals in the country and had the highest rate of homelessness,” the report states — without getting into the obvious issue of weather that makes year-round homelessness possible. So SF may have structural issues contributing to our overall prevalence of homelessness, but these are statewide issues too.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist