Early SF Homeless Numbers Down — Shelter-in-place Hotels, Prop. C Cited as Factors

San Francisco got a sneak peek last month of the results from its 2022 homeless point-in-time count, which showed a drop in some kinds of homelessness. Advocates say directing public money into certain programs played a key role.

The count indicated a significant drop in the number of unsheltered homeless people and chronically homeless people, as well as a large bump in the number of people staying in shelters and transitional housing.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing noted a 15% decrease in people living unsheltered from its last homeless count in 2019. The department usually conducts the federally mandated census of unhoused people every two years, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the latest count back from January 2021 to February 2022.

In raw numbers, the number of homeless people tallied in the count went from 5,180 three years ago to 4,397 this year. 

“This decrease corresponds with a significant increase in shelter and housing resources,” according to the Homelessness Department, which also reported an 18% increase in its sheltered population.

But the department omitted the source of this greater investment. The year before the 2019 count, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition C, which taxes wealthy corporations to fund permanent housing, eviction prevention, and medical and behavioral health services for unhoused people—and advocates say it’s already bearing fruit. Since taking effect, Prop. C raised about $300 million per year. Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelesness, which publishes Street Sheet, said the additional funding will result in a further reduction of homelessness numbers.

“These numbers are the very start of fulfilling Prop. C’s promise, as over the next year, over 3,000 households will have the opportunity to move off the streets,” she said.

Another important intervention was the shelter-in-place (SIP) hotel program, which opened 2,000 rooms for supportive housing during the pandemic. In 2020,  the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the emergency use of hotels, despite Mayor London Breed’s opposition. According to Homelessness Department figures, almost 3,800 people have stayed in SIP hotels since April 2020.

Friedenbach also lauded the SIP hotel program for improving the quality of life for its participants.

“With the addition of the SIP hotel rooms and the 1,000 Prop. C-funded shelter beds, far fewer individuals were forced to sleep on the streets, and these interventions led to improved health outcomes, reduced drug use and increased stability,” she said.

Mayor Breed also applauded the improved numbers, even though she had opposed Prop. C in 2018 and resisted opening the hotels in 2020.

“We have a lot of work to do in this City, but this is good progress,” she tweeted.

The count is usually performed on a single night in January, but the City postponed this year’s count from January 27 to February 23 after the originally scheduled count in 2021 was suspended. 

Typically, City employees and volunteers from nonprofits fan out on the streets and perform a spot-check on unsheltered people. At the same time, the City tallies unhoused folk in shelters and other transitional facilities, then reports the total to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

By the time of San Francisco’s count in late February, 16 of the 30 SIP hotels were still operating; the City had already closed the other 14, and most of those residents transferred to other SIPs.  

Unlike San Francisco, some other Bay Area counties had substantial increases in their homelessness rates. Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties saw double-digit rises in their point-in-time counts.

The full results of the point-in-time count are expected to be released in July.