The total count of those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco this year was 7,754. Of those individuals, only 3,357 of those were staying in a shelter. The amount of those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco has almost doubled within a 15 year period. As a nation, however, the population of those suffering from homelessness has decreased, so what is San Francisco doing wrong?
A soup kitchen in San Francisco called St. Anthony’s has been filling the stomachs of 2,400 people who are experiencing homelessness every day. Even though the city is in the middle of an economic boom, the line to get a plate is always long. Most of the homeless population used to be those who did not work, those who abuse drugs, and individuals who are mentally ill. Now, it is also working individuals, as well as families, who are lining up at soup kitchens, too. People who work full-time still can not afford to live in the city. Many shelters and non-profits are struggling to help everyone. There is a waitlist for St. Anthony’s Hamilton Family Center for over 250 people, and it is only a temporary fix. Children who experience homelessness for more than 6 months are 40 percent more likely to drop out of school and 5 times more likely to experience homelessness as adults. This creates a vicious cycle of those experiencing homelessness and the problem is yet to be resolved.
The four most common causes of those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco are domestic violence, health related events, loss of a job and eviction. Anyone can experience homelessness suddenly. Executive director of St. Anthony’s Hamilton Family Center Jeff Kositsky explained the commonalities of those that seek help. Kositsky states, “Some commonalities are they’re from San Francisco, they became homeless, they have kids, and many of the people work. It’s completely not what you’d expect.” Therefore, not everyone who needs assistance has drug related issues or mental illness.
The population of those suffering from homelessness is annually counted by 600 volunteers and staff across the county between 8pm and midnight. Kevin Fagan, a San Francisco Chronicle Reporter, who has covered the topic of homelessness for more than two decades, explained, “You look at people and you assume that they are homeless or not homeless. It’s kind of a judgment, which by definition makes (the count) imprecise, and the people you can’t see make it imprecise, but it’s a good benchmark that you can use year to year.” The count of those staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing and domestic violence shelters is added to the judgment count which creates a total population of those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. Those counts are done every two years and are necessary for counties to be able to receive federal funding for their homeless services.
The increase in rent prices is one of the main origins for the high population of those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco and many blame its tech industry. This is because when wealthy tech workers move into the city, they drive up the prices by outbidding others for housing. According to the San Francisco Tenant Union, which tracks the cost of vacant rental properties in the city, between 2011 and 2012, apartment rent prices almost doubled and are still rising. Between 2007 and 2012 San Francisco went through the greatest increase in wealth disparity of any U.S. city. Those on the bottom’s salary dropped by $4,000 and the wealthy’s salary increased by $28,000. There has been no other city that has experienced this big of a wealth increase for the rich.
The main reason for the high population of individuals enduring homelessness in San Francisco is the lack of affordable housing. The president of the National Alliance to Fund Homelessness said that the main cause of the homeless crisis is that housing is too scarce and expensive. When incomes do not keep up with the cost of rent, there is a shift in classes, which results in those on the low-income range losing their homes. When people with money try to move into the city, landlords and real estate speculators increase their rent, prices and even evict current tenants in order to have wealthier ones. Landlords can even evict a tenant without a cause, which is called no-fault evictions. In order to help the housing problem, San Francisco needs to build more housing, but this is very difficult because of the high regulations.
Even though as a nation, rates of homelessness decreased over the last 15 years, San Francisco’s homeless population is not declining. Professor Erico Moretti, of economics at the University of California, Berkeley pointed out that in the Bay area, “The problem with high rents is not Google buses or tech jobs. The problem with high rent is the very, very constrained supply of housing and the housing supply is so constrained because we made it so constrained. The city did.” He found that even though Seattle is going through a similar tech industry growth, its rent growth has been one third of San Francisco’s. This is because Seattle has been building more housing, unlike San Francisco. This has been a problem before. The city’s first homeless shelter opened in 1983, when the federal funding for housing and urban development was extremely low. Jennifer Friedenbach, the director of the San Francisco branch of Coalition for the Homeless, believes that affordable housing is the key to preventing homelessness.
Without building more housing, homelessness in San Francisco can not be resolved. There are more and more encampments popping up in the city every day. One of these heavy populated encampments is called the Tenderloin, which is set up against several government buildings and tourist locations. There needs to be a redevelopment of these areas so they can provide affordable and reliable housing. This can make areas like the Tenderloin liveable and plenty agree with the proposition. California needs to put their taxes into building affordable housing in order to alleviate the large population of those bearing homelessness.