On January 29, 2015, San Francisco conducted its biennial point-in-time homeless count, required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of all localities receiving federal funding for homelessness services.
There are three components to San Francisco’s homeless count:
- The general street count, conducted between 8pm – midnight on January 29.
- The youth street count (of youth under age 25), conducted between 5pm – 9pm on the same night, by homeless youth themselves.
- The shelter count (homeless people in emergency shelters, transitional housing, hospital, jail, etc.) for the night of the street count.
For the street count, groups of volunteers either walk or drive around an area of the City and count the number of people who appear to be homeless. Obviously, this methodology is prone to human error and the results should not be regarded as a “true” measure of street homelessness since people who may be homeless and on the streets but not in plain sight will be missed by volunteers. People who are couch surfing, doubled up, living in their vehicles, or living on private property that isn’t fit for habitation are also unlikely to be included in the count.
In addition to the count, researchers surveyed 1,027 homeless San Franciscans and asked them questions about their health, length of time homeless, LGBTQ identity, place of residence at the time they became homeless, employment status, cause of homelessness, and the types of services they use. Keep reading for a summary of some of the findings from the report, including a few myth-busting findings from the survey which debunk some common stereotypes about homeless people. Click here to be directed to the website of San Francisco’s Local Homeless Coordinating Board, where you can read the full report on the point-in-time count and the survey. (All images below are taken directly from the report.)
The total number of people counted in 2015 in the street and shelter count totaled 6,686. Additionally, 853 youth were counted in the supplemental youth count. Combining the numbers from the two counts, the total number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people counted in 2015 was 7,539.
The number of unsheltered homeless people counted was 4,358 (3,505 in the general count and 853 in the youth count). Although this is likely an undercount of the actual unsheltered homeless population, this number is still far greater than the number of homeless San Franciscans who were in shelter on the night of the count. San Francisco’s emergency shelter system, with approximately 1,200 beds, is operating at capacity, and the thousands of homeless people on San Francisco’s streets at night are there because shelters are full and there is nowhere else to go.
Homeless Survey Findings
Race and Sexual Orientation and Homelessness
Survey results show that Homeless San Franciscans are more likely than the general population to identify as LGBTQ (29% of the homeless population vs. 15% of the general population). The survey results also show a much greater percentage of Black or African American people are represented in San Francisco’s homeless population (36%) than San Francisco’s general population (7%).
Homeless San Franciscans are San Franciscans
One of the more pervasive myths about homeless people in San Francisco is that the majority of them became homeless while living in another city or state, and then came to San Francisco to take advantage of our homeless services. Survey results show that 71% of respondents were living in San Francisco when they became homeless, and of those, 49% had been living in San Francisco for 10 years or more.
Sixty-seven percent of those interviewed reported one or more health conditions, and 34% of those reported that their health condition made it difficult for them to get and keep a job or to handle activities of daily living. Stereotypes about homeless people lead some to believe that most, if not all, homeless people are experiencing substance abuse issues, however this survey showed that 37% of respondents reported drug/alcohol addiction as a personal health issue. The medical conditions of homeless people are exacerbated by the trauma, lack of safety, and extreme conditions of street homelessness, and San Francisco’s shelter system is not designed to deliver medical care to people in need of shelter.
Obstacles to Permanent Housing
When asked about obstacles to obtaining permanent housing, the greatest number of survey respondents indicated that they could not afford rent. Difficulties with the process of applying for affordable housing and the lack of affordable housing were also mentioned as obstacles. The myth that homeless people are homeless because they’re “service resistant” or not interested in living indoors was debunked by the responses to this question: only 8% of those surveyed reported that they were not interested in obtaining permanent housing.
To read more about the results from the San Francisco 2015 point-in-time homeless count and survey, visit the website of the Local Homeless Coordinating Board. The 2015 report is available there, as are archived reports dating back to 2005.