A homeless man panhandles in San Francisco.

The city of San Francisco spends about $485,000 each day to house and help the homeless, according to an analyst for the city’s Board of Supervisors. We examine how that money is being spent and the efficacy of the city’s efforts to combat homelessness.

Mark Farrell, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing District 2
Jeff Kositsky, executive director of the Hamilton Family Center, San Francisco's largest family homeless shelter and services provider
Todd, a formerly homeless single parent who found housing through the Hamilton Family Center and city services
Peter Connery, vice president of Applied Survey Research, which has done homeless censuses and surveys for San Francisco and other cities

  • Shirley LeGitte

    Is San Francisco effectively fighting homelessness?

    Well, of course they are! It’s been ten years of Care, not Cash, and the results can be seen all over the city‚Ķ

  • pdjmoo

    Having been homeless myself for many years, I can speak from inside the homeless subculture. Homelessness is a BILLION DOLLAR Business. We will NEVER solve the homeless problem by just focusing on housing. There are millions on the streets throughout the USA. We have to change how we address the CAUSE of homelessness. In particular, we should be catching people on the edge before they enter the homeless culture to support them back into society.
    Many chronic homeless do not want to be housed in traditional hi-rise apartment buildings. The culture is very tribalized and nomadic and just picking someone off the streets, tearing them away from their familiar “community” and surroundings by putting them in an enclosed square box can be too rapid and reverts to going back to the streets. Transitioning is crucial. I believe those involved with the huge homeless issue need to engage and speak with the homeless themselves as to what they feel they need instead of assuming we have the answers from the outside looking in. We have to rethink the entire problem from a more wholistic, humane perspective. Once you sink into homelessness it is very difficult to pull yourself out of the dive and there will never be enough housing to resolve the issue. The game is horrendous. Many non-profits are doing great work and are completely overloaded but many have a vested interest in serving the homeless. They get paid ‘per head’ by county, state and federal to ‘service’ them and cties keep them contained to control them, like herding cattle. Many of the non-profits do not interface or network with each other as they all need their own grants to keep going. Unless we address the social issues that produce homelessness, and provide the counseling, services and assistance BEFORE one hits the streets, the issue will never be solved. Investing in million dollar buildings that houses a few hundred while hundreds more are going homeless at the same time is crazy.

    • thucy

      “Unless we address the social issues that produce homelessness, and provide the counseling, services and assistant BEFORE one hits the streets, the issue will never be solved.”

      I think we’re increasingly seeing that the issues are less “social” and more economic. As someone who cared for homeless patients in a clinical setting, I observed not only that many sober working people were homeless, but that the condition of homelessness made perfectly sober people appear less than sober – often they were passed out from fatigue, not drugs or alcohol.

      • pdjmoo

        It is very stressful being on the streets. It can be a full-time job looking for food, shelter, services, etc. The tragedy is that the longer the situation persists, the deeper one slips into the abyss.

        • Lauran

          That is where I am trapped. Been years in and out of hotels. Being kicked out of parking lots. Trying to sleep in my van, and having people call 911. I just want four walls and a roof. A set of keys would be a game changer.

          I need a social worker that will help me with Social Security, Food Stamps, GA. You can’t get these without an address. I am hungry at this very moment. I live by the hour. After several years wandering I have become suicidal. Just sick of suffering.

          Making it a misdemeanor would just add to my criminal record. I have been caught shoplifting to feed myself. Jail is NOT shelter.

  • thucy


    Given the blows suffered by the US middle class and working poor over the last decade, it’s no wonder we’ve shown so little compassion for the homeless:

    To acknowledge their existence and their humanity is to admit how perilously close to the edge of homelessness the rest of us cling.
    Thus, we must continue to assert that they’re all drug users and uneducated. But the number of “working poor” living out of their cars or in barely legal rentals continues to grow.
    And they say this town is “liberal”! This is the most conservative place I’ve ever lived.

    • Lauran

      Can anyone post links to agencies in the East Bay, or outside SF. I don’t want to try living in my car in SF. I am always looking for places I can park. Not to mention I “shower” using a toilet stall in parks. I have no way to wash my clothes.

      It’s a job being homeless. I am jealous of the people who have learned to work the system and have a house and only pay $300 a month, get food, have a nice car. How is this possible?

  • Ben Rawner

    The focus should be more on ridding SF from scourge of the crack and meth epidemic. There must be someone in government or in the police force that is corrupt because somehow crack/meth is being sold and used in broad day light. I was in the TL and saw a sale to down within 30 feet of officers standing around. Somebody is making money off the sales of these drugs. Who are they and why are they not arrested?
    We have drunk tanks for people who are way too wasted. Why don’t we have crack tanks in which we hold crack/meth users for a month to sober them up and potentially give them the help they need.

    • thucy

      “Somebody is making money off the sales of these drugs. Who are they and why are they not arrested?”

      We’ve hyper-escalated the “war on drugs” for the past three decades. Where did that get us? The highest per capita number of incarcerated people IN THE WORLD and a fabulously robust narcotics traffic.
      Drugs are only part of the problem of homelessness. The real issue is rising poverty in the US. Read David Leonhardt’s recent NY Times article in how poor the average American really is.

  • Another Mike

    True that there is no one size fits all homelessness solution. The chronically homeless benefit most from supportive housing.

    The newly homeless need job coaching so they have the means of preventing homelessness.

  • trite

    The burden of insufficient housing in the city should not be shouldered by the small landlord. There may be those who buy houses to flip and make a profit, but they should be distinguished from people who buy a house with long-term tenants and are unable to move themselves and their families in. By all means we should build more housing for low- and medium-wage people, but we should not expect the small property owner to be coerced into providing that housing. That is a complete overreach of government.

  • Ehkzu

    You’ve framed the debate as being about “homelessness.” Meaning the solution is homes. But at least 2/3 are mentally ill–many of them substance abusers–and another increment of the people you see on the street actually have homes but make their living as professional beggars.

    And then another group are mentally OK and may even have jobs but don’t earn enough to afford rent. Provide housing for this group and they’ll run with the ball. Give housing to the rest and all it proves is that misdiagnosis leads to miscure.

    What homeless advocates refuse to face is that the bulk of so-called homeless people don’t want to live in government housing if it means they won’t be able to use their drug of choice. They’d rather be drunk or high on the street than sober in a building. And a portion of these people are what the hospitals call “frequent fliers.” They’re forever in and out of emergency rooms when they get the DTs or OD, consuming vast amounts of taxpayer dollars on ambulance rides and medical services.

    The simple fact is that at least half the so-called homeless need to be institutionalized for their safety and ours. Ronald Regan closed the insane asylums and tossed crazy people on the street, in accordance with the right wing belief that you choose to be crazy and they’re not “our sort” anyway, while the left wing cheered him on because nobody’s crazy–just “differently mentally enabled.”

    Now we have laws that don’t let us institutionalize anyone involuntarily unless they kill someone or are on a temporary hold. So change the laws, institutionalize the crazy–and that includes addicts–and provide safe dormitory housing for the relative few whose problem really is homelessness. Who aren’t safe in homeless shelters now because they’re surrounded by crazy people, BTW.

    • pdjmoo

      It is clear you have no experience whatsoever of the homeless and the tremendous pressures it brings to the psych. I would suggest you take some time to hang out with them and your entire perspective would change. Much of the drugs, alcohol and mental illness comes from being homeless.

      • Ehkzu

        What’s clear is that you derive your map of reality from your ideology–something that’s equally true of right- and left-wing partisans.

        “It is estimated that nearly half of all individuals experiencing homelessness…suffer from substance abuse disorders. A majority of those with substance abuse disorders also suffer from moderate to severe mental illness.”

        –United States Interagency Council on Homelessness


        • pdjmoo

          Sorry again, my comments come from my own experience living within the homeless community for years….does yours, or just from statistics and viewpoints from looking outside in on this diabolical situation? First the experience, then the understanding. This Video Answers The Uncomfortable Question: Would You Recognize Your Family If They Were Homeless On The Street? http://ow.ly/w87ZN

      • DoobiePatterson

        Stop making homeless people to be victims.

    • thucy

      I’m curious as to how you reached your conclusions. Do you work with the homeless? Are 2/3 of homeless people mentally ill prior to the experience on living on the street, or does homelessness itself create paychological problems?
      How would you “present” in a clinical setting if you had been deprived of normal sleep patterns for even a few months, and lived in fear of beatings from cops or thugs? My guess is that you’d probably look as badly as the homeless do.

      • Ehkzu

        I bet you consider yourself a friend of the homeless. But friendship based on a fantasy view of reality is what gives rise to the saying “May the good Lord save me from my friends. My enemies I can take care of myself.”

        The notion that insanity is purely circumstantial is, well, insane.

        “Numerous studies have reported that approximately one-third of homeless persons have a serious mental illness, mostly schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.”


        I suggest taking a basic psych course at your local community college before you do more advocacy on behalf of the so-called homeless. You don’t get schizophrenia or bipolar disorder from being on the street. These are brain chemistry disorders that can appear in people without regard to their circumstances.

        The inability of you and “thucy” to differentiate between those who are organically crazy and those who are simply Les Miserables leads to the sorts of terrible policy decisions that make homeless shelters so dangerous for those who’ve simply fallen on hard times.

        And it makes you two as obtuse about mental illness as Ronald Regan, who seems to have thought psychiatry was a Comyewnist Plot.

        The deinstitutinalization of crazy people over the last half century has dumped them into the community with less than zero benefit to the crazy and to the detriment of the rest of us. Group homes are even more depressing than the insane asylums they replaced, and the liberal laws that make it impossible to involuntarily institutionalize crazy people has ensured that thousands of families live in terror of being murdered by their psychotic adult sons.


  • jen hoey padgett

    Study the 10 years+ data that you have to see what is working. NO One has done this. We often impose an outcome and measure ourselves against that. We should be studying what works for each population and building the outcomes from that

  • jen hoey padgett

    San Francisco has an awesome data warehouse within the Public Health department that can be expanded on to include data from homeless services to understand what is working and what doesn’t work. A new tool out called the SPDAT (that has studied data) suggests some people will move out of homelessness on their own – and in fact providing an intervention keeps them homeless longer. We need to right size treatment

  • Ehkzu

    You can’t solve the homeless crisis until the laws are changed to allow long-term involuntary institutionalization, build insane asylums and put the mentally ill/addicts in them, then provide safe dormitory housing for the minority of homeless for whom their homelessness is actually their problem.

  • jen hoey padgett

    We are in the middle of Silicon Valley. We should at least be leading in the technology, data collection, data mining, etc. We could create helpful systems that are re-saled to other communities- Profits from that could help support building of affordable housing. We need to think outside the box to bring more $$$ to help resolve these issues

  • pdjmoo

    This Video Answers The Uncomfortable Question: “Would You Recognize Your Family If They Were Homeless On The Street?” http://ow.ly/w87ZN.
    “Tiny Housing Villages for the Homeless: An Affordable Solution Catches On” http://ow.ly/w8hbp
    And This is interesting, the whole world is experiencing housing shortage — Chinese company uses 3D printing to build 10 small houses in a day for less than US$5,000 http://ow.ly/w893G This small home may look plain, but it represents a significant achievement in rapid construction. A Chinese company has demonstrated the capabilities of its giant 3D printer by rapidly constructing 10 houses in less than 24 hours. Built from predominantly recycled materials, these homes cost less than US$5,000 and could be rolled out en masse to ease housing crises in developing countries.

    • Ehkzu


  • This thoughtful thread reflects the incredibly broad range of thoughts and opinions we have, collectively, about this issue. Many of our ideas are well-formed and even entrenched. This is natural and normal, but doesn’t tend to move the needle very much. As Einstein said, one can’t solve a problem with the consciousness that created it. That’s why we are embarking on a BRAND NEW approach. Wading in, if you will, and perhaps you will. http://on.fb.me/1jXWWwj We need all voices and hope to hear yours.

  • pdjmoo

    This whole epidemic of displaced persons continues to widen and get more insane. “Homeless Grandmother Arrested 59 Times for Sitting on Sidewalk” http://ow.ly/wqGjL Surely an entirely different approach is needed urgently, like addressing the cause of massive poverty sweeping the USA and the World. And as for housing, here’s what New York is doing “The Value of Land: How Community Land Trusts Maintain Housing Affordability” http://ow.ly/wqI6F I wonder just how many of us are one paycheck, one illness, one misfortune away from being in the same situation — “homeless”? Patrick’s Story: “Invisible People” http://ow.ly/wqGU8

  • pdjmoo

    Everyone who is “homeless” is not equal. What we need is a 911 for those going “homeless” to provide them with stabalizing services before they sink into the abyss. There are may facets to this “7 Myths About Homeless People Debunked” http://ow.ly/wslZa

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