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While homeless count changes little, more in shelters for first time

UPDATE 5/23/11: We changed the story to note that the “street count” of 6,455 people includes both sheltered and unsheltered people. The actual count of people living on the street on the night of the count (those unsheltered) rose from 2,709 two years ago to 3,106 this year. That’s almost a 13 percent increase of people found on the streets. Page 13 of this year’s report bears this out. We will be addressing this issue in future reports.


The bi-annual Homeless Count and Survey, released Wednesday, provided a snapshot of demographics, location and living situations for some 6,455 homeless people recorded in the 2011 survey.

Reports in the Examiner focused on the slight decrease in street total homeless population, which was 6,514 in 2009. At less than 1 percent (just 59 persons) it does not indicate a significant change. But details about who is homeless, and the locations in the city where they reside, have revealed important shifts.
The San Francisco Chronicle cited a rise in families without permanent housing, and attributed it to harsh economic times and a decreased job market.
SFGate also reported that the number of “chronically homeless” people (defined, usually as people who have been continually homeless for more than one year) has fallen to 33 percent, down almost half from 2009. The city, which conducted the count on Jan. 27 with a mostly volunteer force, attributed the decline to the provision of permanent supportive housing.
Another big change is the migration of San Francisco’s homeless to Bayview-Hunters Point, with a population that more than doubled over the last two years — from 444 to 1,151. These numbers reflect a shift of homeless to the outskirts of San Francisco and could be the result of efforts to reduce visible homelessness in commercial districts like Union Square, mid-Market and Fisherman’s Wharf, where visible homelessness was reduced by as much as 14 percent.
But in addition to the spot-check of street homeless, the city also surveyed over 1,000 people in the emergency shelter system. Their findings — buried in a press statement from the Human Services Agency — went unreported by the city’s daily papers.
The agency found that over half of the respondents are experiencing homelessness for the first time. And just as they discovered in their 2009 survey, about three-quarters of shelter clients were already living in San Francisco before they became homeless, most of them for more than 10 years. These stats argue against the notion that San Francisco is a “homeless magnet.”

SF Public Press will focus on these discoveries in upcoming stories focusing on the 2011 Homeless Count and Survey.


Nina Frazier contributed reporting.