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Thursday, July 16, 2015

SF's Homeless Population Is Older, Sicker, and Getting Forced Into New Neighborhoods

Posted By on Thu, Jul 16, 2015 at 8:09 AM

click to enlarge FRANCO FOLINI/FLICKR
  • Franco Folini/Flickr

San Francisco released its biennial homeless count yesterday, and as the Chronicle reports, that population is getting older, sicker, and less welcome in neighborhoods marked by new construction.

The report — based on a one day count of the city’s homeless conducted by volunteers, city officials, nonprofits, and, this year, Dennis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff — must be produced every two years for the city to qualify for federal funds.

According to the Chronicle, the 2015 count showed a 3.8 percent increase in the number of homeless people since 2013 — up to 6,686 this year. The number of chronically homeless people (those who have been on the street intermittently for more than a year) fell to 25 percent of the total, the lowest number since 2002.

Also decreasing is the number of homeless youths, which is down 6.6 percent from 2013 for a total of 853. The number of homeless veterans also fell to 208. (San Francisco received a three-year federal grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs with which Mayor Ed Lee has vowed to end homelessness among the city’s veterans by 2016.)

Two particularly striking stats from the report: 30 percent of the city’s homeless are 51 or older; 35 percent said they had a psychiatric or emotional condition.

Not only is the homeless community aging, it’s also migrating. Per the Chronicle, the number of homeless people in District Two, which includes the Marina and Pacific Heights, tripled since 2013, while the number of homeless in District Eight, which includes the Castro, nearly doubled. Rampant construction in SoMa could be to blame for the uptick in outlying neighborhoods.

Last month, the Coalition on Homelessness found that San Francisco has spent more than $1.5 billion on homeless services over the past decade, yet the challenge of housing people remains formidable. With only one shelter bed for every six people, the city’s social service system is overburdened.

Compounding the challenge, especially for older or mentally ill people, is the prevalent criminalization of homelessness. San Francisco has 23 state and municipal anti-homeless laws, more than any other community in California. As a result, the SFPD issues thousands of citations each year to homeless people charged with sleeping in public, panhandling, loitering, and other “quality of life” nuisances. Most of these citations go unpaid.

The Coalition’s report also pointed to a troubling trend whereby police search or confiscate homeless people’s belongings. Among the possessions often taken are identification cards, prescription medication, tents, blankets, and clean syringes.


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Jeremy Lybarger

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