Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle
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A new report says the Bay Area’s homeless population is the third-largest in the country with more than 28,000 people across the nine-county region lacking housing.
A perhaps more startling fact included in the study by the business-oriented Bay Area Council is this: 67 percent of the homeless people in the Bay Area are unsheltered, compared to 26 percent in Chicago metro, 16 percent in Denver, 15 percent in Washington, D.C. metro and 5 percent in New York City.
The only major city or metro area with a higher percentage of homeless people without access to any shelter is Los Angeles with 75 percent unsheltered. (See percentages for other cities in the gallery above.)
“The size of the Bay Area’s homeless population combined with the lack of shelter makes the region’s homeless population more visible than elsewhere in the United States,” says the study.
The Bay Area Council’s study, called “Bay Area Homelessness: A Regional View of a Regional Crisis,” aims to present a comprehensive look at homelessness in the area and encourage community leaders to find a region-wide solution. You can browse many of the findings from the report in the gallery above. But at this point, you’re probably wondering why many other cities have prioritized low-cost shelters as a temporary solution for homelessness more than the Bay Area has. The main reason is weather.
“The weather on the East Coast is much more extreme,” said Jeff Kositsky, director of S.F.’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. “Not that people don’t die on the streets here, they do, but we don’t have the extremes, and as a result we haven’t prioritized the right to shelter.”
In some places on the East Coast, people are forced to go into shelters and aren’t allowed to sleep in public spaces, while in New York, people actually have a legal right to shelter. This is due to a law passed in the 1980s that forced the city and state to provide shelter beds to all New Yorkers who are homeless by “reason of physical, mental, or social dysfunction.”
On the upside, people are off the streets with roofs over their heads due to the law, but studies have shown the New York’s system is riddled with problems and has created a reliance on shelters.
“I don’t believe that law has served unhoused people well,” Kositsky said. “People get warehoused by these shelters. Some shelters are great with high-quality programs, but others, I’d understand why people would rather be outdoors.”
In February 2019, there were 63,615 homeless people sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system; this number is 74% higher than it was a decade ago, according to the New York Coalition for Homelessness.
Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, shelter access has diminished in recent years. From 2011 to 2017, “the number of shelter beds in the region declined by 3 percent per year (about 1,700 beds lost in total),” according to the report.
The reasons for the Bay Area’s lack of shelter access are abundant and complicated, and the number of temporary beds that should be added is up for debate. While some might argue building a robust shelter system is an inexpensive and efficient solution to getting people off the streets, the sentiment among local experts seems to be that it’s better to invest the scarce resources in permanent housing, which may be more expensive but offers a long-term solution.
“I think it’s better to have people sheltered than unsheltered,” said Sam Dodge, homeless coordinator for San Francisco Public Works. “But the best thing is to have people in houses. It’s important that people have shelter, but they should be rapidly transitioned into housing. What we want is a huge infusion of resources for affordable housing, not just an ever-expanding shelter system.”
It’s no secret the Bay Area lacks affordable housing, and the Bay Area Council’s report notes a 2016 study finding California has 3.5 million fewer homes than needed.
The study also includes a long list of solutions for fast-tracking affordable-housing projects across the region, and concludes, “A true solution to homelessness would require a permanent home for each homeless individual or family.”
It’s a lofty goal, and one the report doesn’t put an exact monetary value on, but it’s bound to cost millions, even billions, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan wrote in his story on the report.
It’s also bound to take time, and that brings us back to one more startling fact from the report: “Given existing growth rates in the inflows into homelessness and assuming the region could sustain 2017’s annual increase of permanent supportive housing units (2,500), the Bay Area will not be able to provide a bed to each of its homeless residents until 2037.”
For more on the report, read Fagan’s story “Homelessness: Regional plan needed to solve Bay Area crisis” at SFChronicle.com.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Bay-Area-homeless-unsheltered-67-percent-NYC-13757259.php.