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10 Years On, ‘Housing First’ Misses Many
Thousands wait in shelters and on street for a chance at recovery
The cover story in the fall 2014 print edition. Buy a copy in print. Stories rolling out online this fall.
After a decade of ambitious reforms and hundreds of millions of dollars spent trying to rid San Francisco of homelessness, the problem seems as knotty, gritty and intractable as ever.
What more can be said about the issue?
Lots. We learned a great deal about how the offer of basic accommodations — what is called in the social service sector “housing first” — might disrupt the cycle of poverty, mental illness and addiction.
While the theory was sound, San Francisco’s homeless population turned out to be a moving target.
Inequality increased dramatically across the city. Rents rose, squeezing those at the bottom of the housing market the hardest.
At the culmination of the “10-Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness,” the city has built nearly 3,000 units of affordable, subsidized supportive housing. But the evidence on the street is that there are many more waiting than offered spaces each year.
Reporter Angela Hart interviewed city officials, social service workers and people transitioning from living on the streets to homes.
She found that two large agencies — the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Agency — still have work to do to coordinate their offerings and get supportive services to the right people. Reforms to the triage system could give those waiting for a room at least an idea of when they might get off the streets or out of a shelter.
But even the politicians who set the city down the housing-first path recognize that not enough money has been reserved to match the rising demand for supportive housing.
This special report, supported in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, also delves into the reasons why housing is beneficial to mental health, and why the San Francisco jail has become the city’s psychiatric institution of last resort.
cover and flow chart images by Patrick Sean Gibson // instagram.com/patrickseangibson
comic about mental illness and homelessness by Dan Archer // graphicvoices.com
faces of policy-makers by Anna Vignet // annavignet.com