ECLECTIC RANT: Permanent Housing for Homeless: An Unsolvable Problem?

Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 26, 2016 - 04:54:00 PM

My wife and I arrived in San Francisco in 1971. Since at least that time, getting the homeless into housing or shelters has been a "concern" or a priority for every administration. Yet, the number of homeless keeps increasing from about 6,248 in 2005 to about 6,686 in 2015.  

True, between 2004 and 2014, 11,362 had been housed. Why then does the homeless count keep increasing? According to a 2016 survey 29% of the San Francisco homeless migrate here from another state or another California county. Could it be that as fast as we find housing or temporary shelter for some, new arrivals take their place?  

Homelessness in the U.S. is a national disgrace. On a single night in January 2013, there were 610,042 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S., including 394,698 people who were homeless in sheltered locations and 215,344 people who were living in unsheltered locations. 

There should be a policy of universal affordable housing for everyone. But because homelessness is a national problem, it will require a serious recommitment by the federal government to create, subsidize, and maintain truly affordable housing. Until then, finding permanent housing for San Francisco's homeless is probably an unsolvable problem. In the meantime, the best we can probably do is expand the Navigation Center program, which provides one-stop help for the homeless, and offer temporary shelter, if not permanent housing, for the City's homeless. 

San Francisco has allocated $241 million this year for homeless programs but considering that the number of homeless seems to increase over the years, I wonder if we are getting as much bang for the buck as we should, or are we throwing too much money down a rabbit hole in an attempt to solve and unsolvable problem.  

We will have to wait for the next homeless count to find out whether the $241 million allocated for homeless programs was well spent. 


The 2010 Update of "Without Housing - Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures" by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), provides an excellent overview of the origins of contemporary homelessness in the U.S.