Despite San Francisco officials’ attempts to get ahead of storms, many unhoused people said they were having a hard time accessing shelter beds and other resources to protect them from the rain.
Fires in encampments, tents and other makeshift shelters occurred more frequently in recent years, reporting from the San Francisco Public Press and Mission Local shows. But incident counts alone do not offer a clear explanation of what is happening on the street.
Encampment fires are a fact of life due to the exposed conditions homeless residents live in, but the 77th Avenue Rangers’ camp demonstrates that there’s hope for controlling these incidents without official intervention.
One key to their success has been fire preparedness, including measures like installing smoke alarms and keeping fire extinguishers on hand.
On March 9, the city’s first navigation center to specifically serve transgender and gender-nonconforming people opens in SoMa.
It will fill a gap in homeless services that has excluded a highly vulnerable population. Transgender people are 17 times more likely to experience homelessness than the average person, and 70% of those who have stayed in shelters report having experienced harassment, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
A recent investigation from the San Francisco Public Press and ProPublica indicates Hanson is not alone in her frustration. But the problem is not that there is nowhere for people to go. Rather, hundreds of units of permanent supportive housing — rooms in hotels or full apartments intended to get people experiencing homelessness a roof over their heads and connected with services — are sitting empty. Meanwhile, more than 1,600 people have been approved to move into them, and more than 400 people on the streets have been waiting to be housed for more than a year.
As of early February, the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing reported 1,633 homeless people approved for housing and awaiting their turn to move in. Yet records provided by the department show 888 vacancies in its permanent supportive housing stock as of Feb. 22. Filling those empty rooms would not just cut the waiting list by more than half. It would be enough to house roughly one in every eight homeless people in the city. The homelessness department said it cannot talk about individual cases, but officials acknowledged that at least 400 people have been waiting more than a year, far beyond the department’s professed goal of placing applicants into housing 30 to 45 days after they’re approved.
Fires associated with homeless encampments in San Francisco rose by more than two-thirds during the first year of the pandemic, according to a Public Press analysis of the narrative texts from San Francisco Fire Department reports.
Fires are an ever-present fear for people living on the streets, where an errant spark could send flames ripping through a tent or other temporary shelter, sending its contents quickly up in smoke. Unhoused residents who have suffered through this experience report receiving little of the help available to those assisted after fires in buildings.
In search of a project, photographer Robert Gumpert started wandering around San Francisco. He began talking with and photographing people he encountered who were living on the street and in shelters. The resulting book “Division Street,” named after a street in the city where homeless people have often established encampments, will be released this year.
A report from the Coalition on Homelessness alleges that the city’s encampment clearing practices are illegal and often fail to connect homeless people to the services they need.
On Thursday, a damning report dropped, offering new data on San Francisco’s practice of sweeping encampments. Authored by the Coalition on Homelessness, the report alleges the Healthy Streets Operation Center regularly fails to offer an adequate number of shelter beds to people on the streets during its cleanup operations and is illegally discarding people’s belongings. The practices create serious legal risk for San Francisco.
As cases of COVID-19 surge in San Francisco, advocates question whether the city can prevent another outbreak in the homeless community. Between June 30 and July 31, confirmed cases among homeless people quadrupled from 18 to 78. But as the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps across the city, there is a growing shortage of safe places for homeless people to go.