San Francisco policy-makers have largely ignored homeless families. The latest dramatic surge in homelessness among families due to the economic downturn has been met by deafening silence inside City Hall. We have outlined here some alarming trends, and detailed the steps San Francisco should take.
Funding for these initiatives should not come from eroding cornerstone poverty abatement programs such as treatment, employment, childcare, public benefits, or legal services.
- Fill all vacant public housing units, and give homeless families a priority for those units.
- Expand local rental subsidy program to get 50 additional families into housing.
- Continue emergency shelters until crisis is abated; Bethel AME (a winter shelter) should stay open past winter, and Oshun should continue allowing families to stay there.
Building for Our Future
- Housing Advocate position for families on the waitlist should be added.
- Allocate 1,500 units of publicly-funded housing affordable to homeless families (extremely low-income) over next five years.
Current SF Situation
- There are currently 2,200 homeless student enrolled in San Francisco Unified School District, this is up from 1,600 in 2009 and 1,232 in 2005.
- The City has included in its homeless housing pipeline 2,794 units of housing for homeless individuals. However, only 303 (11%) of these units are slated for homeless families.
- Today, the waitlist for shelter for families is at an all time high, with families waiting more then six months for shelter. In the summer of 2007, there were 75 homeless families on the wait list for shelter. One year later, after the recession hit, there were 150 families. The City now has more than 267 families on the waitlist.
- More then 1,600 homeless family members are living in Single Room Occupancy hotel rooms. This includes more than 800 children living in cramped, substandard housing.
- Snapshot data demonstrated that 50% of the families on shelter waitlist were from San Francisco, and 24% from other Bay Area counties.
- 60% of post-recession homeless families are homeless for the first time.
- The average wait for Section 8 housing through the Housing Authority is four years.
- There are 37,000 households on the combined Section 8 and Public Housing waitlist in San Francisco. When Oakland recently opened up its Section 8 waitlist, it had more than 50,000 applicants.
- Average market rate for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,736 and for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,232 in San Francisco.
- A parent of two making $10 an hour full time earns about $1,495 per month after taxes.
- Homeless families are poorer, younger, more likely to be pregnant, from an ethnic minority, and less likely to have a housing subsidy than are housed families. Homeless families are not more likely to be mentally ill, depressed, or less well-educated. As a group, homeless families are poorer, not more “troubled.”
- The only fundamental difference between housed poor families and homeless poor families is whether or not they have a housing subsidy. Studies show that subsidized housing cures homelessness! Two New York City studies found that 93% of families remained housed two years post-placement, whereas 38% of families without a subsidy returned to homelessness.
- San Francisco can be on the cutting edge in attempting to eradicate homelessness among families. One simple solution is to change the locally funded housing subsidy to have parity with single adult subsidies by lifting the arbitrary time limit that is placed on families, but does not exist for single adults.
Negative Impact on Children
- The City should prioritize homeless families in its policy initiatives because of the disproportionately negative effects homelessness has on children.
- Children that are homeless are at risk for many short- and long-term problems. They have a higher rate of serious and chronic health problems (e.g., asthma, hospitalizations), developmental delays, mental health problems (especially depression and anxiety, compounded by exposure to trauma and violence), academic failures (including grade repetition), behavioral problems (e.g. aggression, poor social skills, difficulty with relationship building), hunger and poor nutrition.
The Financial Impact
- The City of San Francisco, on average, has to spend $34,479 to keep the average family of three in shelters for one year.
- It would cost the City of San Francisco $6,000 per year to permanently house a family of three with a shallow subsidy. That is a savings of over $28,000 compared with the $34,479 that it costs to keep the same family in shelter for one year.