Navigating Homelessness: Which Way Home?
When Mayor Ed Lee launched the city’s “pioneering” navigation centers in 2015, he envisioned that homeless people would move from the streets to long-term housing in 10 days or less. But reality quickly crushed that idea, in large part because housing was scarce.
By now, the navigation centers have fundamentally changed. City teams offer brief stays at the facilities to tent encampments’ occupants, who have increasingly gone back to the streets, a Public Press analysis of data shows. It turns out that, since opening, fewer than one-quarter of the centers’ “guests” have ended up in permanent housing in San Francisco. Most of the rest have received one-way bus tickets out of town.
There are few housing options, even temporary ones, for those who do not pass through the center. The traditional shelter system is overtaxed; demand and wait times for 90-day emergency beds have hit record highs. Middle-aged adults and seniors — some in their 80s and 90s — account for the biggest share of the waiting list.
Out on the streets, police have eased up on enforcing “quality of life” violations. Citations are at records lows, as city officials move to decriminalize homelessness in their quest for solutions — permanent or otherwise.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
San Francisco does not have enough subsidized housing for all the homeless people living here. The Public Press examined the city’s paths for getting people off the streets, giving special attention to the new navigation centers. Reporters also tracked trends showing a decline in SFPD citations for behavior that homeless people have trouble avoiding.
REPORTING: Noah Arroyo, Hannah Kaplan, Sara Bloomberg, Zachary Benjamin, Liz Enochs | EDITING: Michael Winter and Michael Stoll | PRINT DESIGN: HyunJu Chappell/Magna Citizen Studio | CARTOGRAPHY: Marcea Ennamorato | PHOTOGRAPHY: Judith Calson| ILLUSTRATIONS: Anna Vignet| GRAPHICS: Sara Bloomberg and Reid Brown | ONLINE: John Angelico