A man holds a clipboard while standing next to a woman, below a design featuring a clipboard with lines leading to items like an image of tents, an image of handcuffs, a syringe, a questionnaire.

San Francisco Rations Housing by Scoring Homeless People’s Trauma. By Design, Most Fail to Qualify.

Co-published with ProPublica.

Tabitha Davis had just lost twins in childbirth and was facing homelessness. The 23-year-old had slept on friends’ floors for the first seven months of her pregnancy, before being accepted to a temporary housing program for pregnant women. But with the loss of the twins, the housing program she’d applied to live in after giving birth — intended for families — was no longer an option.

A few weeks later, Davis was informed that the score she’d been given based on her answers to San Francisco’s “coordinated entry” questionnaire wasn’t high enough to qualify for permanent supportive housing. It was a devastating blow after an already traumatizing few months.

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An illustration with 25 panels depicting calendar pages alternating with experiences of people living in homelessness or temporary shelter while waiting to be assigned to permanent housing.

In San Francisco, Hundreds of Homes for the Homeless Sit Vacant

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.

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