Over Half Of San Francisco’s Homeless Refused Shelter Space According To New City Data
Recent encampment caused fire, data raise concerns that city is not doing enough to shelter city homeless
New data released by the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management on Thursday found that , a figure that has been touted by many as helping explain why San Francisco’s homeless problem has gotten worse in recent years.
For years, the number of homeless in San Francisco has gone steadily up. While figures tend to fluctuate due to the complexities of the cities and counties of the Bay Area, homelessness in general has , with the Great Recession, tech boom, rise in housing costs, major changes to policing in the city, major job losses, and COVID-19 all being considered major factors in the rise. In 2023, San Francisco has, on an average night, .
While that figure is not even close to where larger cities are at, with Los Angeles alone currently standing in the city proper, San Francisco has not been forcing the shelter space issue, with no laws on the books saying that shelter space must be offered and , although the latter is currently being challenged in the courts. RVs, trailers, and other similar vehicles also have an , while other cities tend to work with those homeless by finding lot space and other areas to safely park overnight.
A solution many other cities are currently enforcing are encampment bans and bans for the homeless to be near areas of public safety such as schools overpasses, and daycare centers. Los Angeles , with . In San Diego, is due to be slowly ramped up over the next several months, with homeless people having to either accept shelter space or face being issued a misdemeanor or arrest if there is shelter space available. However, up North in San Francisco, it just isn’t on the radar.
This was brought to a head this week when . While the blaze is being investigated, early signs have pointed to the encampment, which has had complaints about open flames in the past, being the culprit.
“The cause of yesterday’s fire in Hayes Valley is still under investigation,” said Mayor London Breed in on Wednesday. “While there is always a rush to judge what the cause may be, we must allow our investigators to do their jobs. However, I want to address concerns raised by the neighbors about nearby encampments.”
In a follow up statement she added, “We can’t force people to accept or stay in shelter and we’re unable to prevent people from setting up an encampment in area that was just cleaned. This is the situation we are in.”
The fire and statements from city officials led to public outrage on Wednesday, with it only being fueled further by the release of the new homeless data on Thursday. According to the Department of Emergency Management, city homeless teams recently approached 2,344 homeless people on the streets. Of those 2,344 people, 1,065 accepted shelter services, with 1,278 saying no. With over half of the city’s homeless saying no to shelter space, no laws forcing the city to get them into shelters, and , many in the city have called for similar encampment bans and shelter laws similar to LA and San Diego.
“San Francisco needs to realize that they need to tackle the homeless problem head on,” explained Gina Cortez, a Bay Area-based homeless services researcher, to the Globe on Thursday. “People in the city are angry that things aren’t getting done. LA didn’t do that for years and look what happened there. But more to that, there are significant crime, public health, public safety, and other concerns here if nothing is being done. We saw that with the fire on Tuesday, but we have also been seeing it in the city for years. And we can’t just be like that idiot Mayor in Alaska Dave Bronson and . This is complex.
“We need laws to reduce these tent encampments and we need laws that really push shelter space on the homeless. There’s a way to make this work, and to their credit, San Francisco is boosting shelter space. But they need to go way beyond that. It’s a huge safety problem now, and forcing shelter space for those refusing to get off the street is a hard but necessary option at this point. There’s just no real way around it anymore.”
More news on what started the Hayes Valley fire is expected soon.
Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at email@example.com.