San Francisco, CA

1 year passed by, only 30 new homeless beds!?

Jano le Roux
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It has been almost a year since the city started construction on a much-needed medical respite facility for the homeless and mentally ill in the area, but the bustling, yellow building for the initiative in the Mission District is still empty.

Last February, the city unveiled the new Hummingbird Place respite center and praised it as a small but meaningful step towards assisting the neediest in the city. But the challenges found in establishing the 30-bed site underline exactly how long it takes for San Francisco to make progressive changes to its treatment infrastructure.

An overview of the homeless problem in San Francisco

In order to quantify the prevalence of homelessness in their city, cities around the nation perform systematic counts of their homeless populations every two years. The United States needs these biennial Point-in-Time homeless counts. Both counties accept federal Homeless Assistance Grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide housing and facilities for homeless people and families.

The quadrennial point-in-time counts are the main source of national statistics on sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and support cities and the federal government to help recognize the local and national essence of homelessness.

In San Francisco’s 2019 point-in-time street and refuge census, 8,035 homeless people were counted. This was an improvement on the 2017 count of more than 14 points.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has updated the methods used to document the 2019 point-in-time count to comply with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s federal guidelines (HUD). The count previously recorded a variety of people who did not come under the federal statutory definition of homelessness, such as people “doubled-up” in relatives or friends’ houses, people residing in prisons, hospitals, or residential buildings, and households living in single room occupancy (SRO) units.

On January 24, 2019, the general street count was completed from nearly 8 PM to midnight and included all of San Francisco’s 47 square miles. The shelter count was carried out on the same night which covered all residents living in emergency shelters, temporary housing centers, shelters for domestic abuse, prisons, clinics, and rehab facilities. The 2019 point-in-time count in San Francisco was administered by Applied Survey Research and organized by the Homelessness and Affordable Housing Agency.

The 2019 count was 9,808 under this previous, more inclusive description — referred to in the graph as the “San Francisco standard” -; an improvement of more than 30 percent over the 2017 count.

The 2020 and 2021 count has been postponed due to the pandemic, but some people reckon it is because of a fear of the reputational damage these statistics will have on the town hall. Where is has the homeless count gone now? 20,000? 30,000? The problem is nobody knows. All we know is that food shelters have never ever been this full in the city.

What has San Francisco tried to fight homelessness thus far?

Originally, San Francisco did what every other big city, which is constructing shelters, did, as homelessness grew in the 1980s, they just needed people to pull together again to become stable.

As the severity of the problem deepened, the developed housing and rehabilitation programs and then, as compassion fatigue began to set in, the city sought to take a harder line on law enforcement in the 1990s.

The emphasis has been on housing people with on-site counseling where they need it since the 2000s, undertaking comprehensive street outreach to draw people into systems, and creating a powerful data framework for tracking migration movements.

1 year to provide 30 beds

Last winter, practically everything was in the position to bring the abandoned building of the Salvation Army at 1156 Valencia St. to life in just a few months: the financing, the non-profit manager, and a contract overwhelmingly accepted by Mayor Breed and her team. But then the pandemic struck and the process stalled. Now, by the end of April, officials expect the site to be operational.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose jurisdiction contains the site, said, he is very, very frustrated. He explains that for a tiny facility, that’s a lot of work. “ When we get to the top, it’ll be worth it. .Yet we just have to get to the end of it,” he reportedly told the SF Chronicle.

It will be only the second of its kind in a city with more than 10 000 homeless people when the facilities actually open. With approximately 30 beds, the original Hummingbird is on the campus of San Francisco General Hospital. It serves persons who are in the aftermath of a depressive disorder who sometimes deal with the use of drugs as well.

Some persons remain for a couple of hours, and others stay for weeks. Clients also transfer to, or back to the streets, another recovery facility.

Officials say the city badly wants another hummingbird: There are more than 4,000 residents on the streets of San Francisco dealing with homelessness, mental disorders, and opioid use, according to the health department. Owing to the pandemic, the amount has undoubtedly risen.

A guy surrounded by a wall of bottles, garbage, and a shopping cart yelled violently into the sky on Tuesday afternoon, just half a block away from the abandoned facility on Valencia Street.

But what about the funding?

Originally, the city projected the proposal would cost $300,000 in infrastructure expenditures with maintenance expenses of around $3 million a year. A $3 million grant was offered to the city by the non-profit Tipping Point Group to support.

The capital expenses have now doubled, Ellington added, and the Salvation Army will pay for the overruns. Operating expenses would be financed by the budget of the region.

There have been a lot of unexpected problems that are not out of the ordinary.

The initial Hummingbird was celebrated by Department of Public Health officials as the type of support the city wants to expand. The service is another place for physicians and nurses to take patients when they are not ill enough to be admitted to the ER.

Hummingbird Place is a good example of something new being tried by the Department of Public Health, working out what tends to work and building on that achievement to serve its customers with mental health needs, Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the health department of the region, explained last year.

Final thoughts

Town Hall has shown us that it takes them 1 year to simply open up a facility with 30 beds having to serve more than 10,000 homeless people in the city. At this pace, it will take around 330 years to sort out the homelessness crisis in San Francisco. Are you kidding me? 330 years?! If Mayor Breed wants to win the battle she needs to up her game because currently, they’re throwing pebbles and unstrategic funding at a giant crisis tormented in the city where dreams use to rule.

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