This information is important enough to post in its entirety.
Credit: NHIP email list. Author: Michael Ullman, Ph.D.
Pay particular attention to #2, #4, and #6.
Locally we need:
Better data that’s verifiable and more accurate.
Stop spreading the myth that high rents and housing prices cause homelessness.
We’ll never “end” homelessness so “10-year action plans” are pointless. Even “functional zero” beyond just veteran homelessness is a pipe dream until we face reality-it’s a drug abuse and mental health crisis.
If we don’t invest far more sums into those categories instead of continually trying to build “affordable housing” we’ll just waste 10s of millions more taxpayer dollars.
Dear Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce:
You have donated $30 million for a Research Institute on Homelessness at the University of California at San Francisco. You have personally lobbied for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state and local funding for housing and homeless services for San Francisco, the Bay Area and the State of California.. Those efforts are appreciated.
The NHIP offers the following action steps needed if you want to help the public better understand the problem of homelessness and improve services with the hope of reducing, but not ending, street homelessness.
1. Improve the accuracy and increase the frequency of street counts.
How effective could you be in leading Salesforce if you only received financial statements every two years? Currently, San Francisco, Oakland and several other Bay Area Cities only conduct a homeless street census every two years without any check for accuracy. This is below the standard of most cities who complete an annually count. Given the urgency of the problem, unsheltered counts should be done quarterly (if not monthly), including recounts for accuracy, especially in key areas with a high density of street dwellers (e.g. Mission, SoMa and Tenderloin) with results disseminated widely. These counts also need to be completed by trained professionals – not volunteers receiving 45 minutes of training or overworked case managers who already have a full-time job.
2. Improve your monthly HMIS reporting
Currently, the reporting from the HMIS is below standard. Only 56% of the emergency and transitional beds and 73% of Permanent Supportive Housing units are reporting data into the HMIS system. How could you make decisions about Salesforce with only half of your departments reporting? The monthly reports produced by the homeless department continue to be lacking in necessary data needed for decisions. I challenge you personally to improve this aspect of homeless reporting for SF. Here is the latest January 2020 report. If you read it, you will see. If you need assistance, the NHIP can explain what is missing. I do not blame the current staff, because they do not have the skill and training to produce rigorous reports. Salesforce is all about timely data analytics. Let’s make that a goal for SF homeless reports.
3. Stop opening Emergency Shelters (aka Navigation Centers)
The Emergency Shelter, call it what you want, is the failed solution of the 1980s and 90s. This is why HUD provides zero Continuum funding for these shelters. All Emergency Shelters should be closed or converted to permanent housing. If you read the monthly report, you will see that the success rate from these Navigation Centers is less than 15% with most clients just returning to the streets. The fundamental flaw of homeless services is asking a person who has come in from the streets to leave the shelter and go to a “better” place. Upper-class people may not think a shelter or congregate living is permanent, but for many people it is good enough. Do not kick people out just because they stay a long time. This is a good solution for them until THEY decide to move on.
4. Explain to the public that the lack of affordable housing does not cause homelessness
Please understand that affordable housing does NOT cause homelessness. The primary engine for homelessness is the formation of one adult households without sufficient resources. Most adults without resources live with other adults. This is why homelessness is not significantly higher. Any functioning household who cannot afford housing will move somewhere else or move in with family or friends. Laws, federal regulations and societal trends that fuel the creation of these one-adult “deformed” households need to be addressed. Currently, an individual with a housing subsidy cannot allow another family member or close friend to come live with them. These types of regulations are anti-family and anti-community and a big part of why we have such high levels of homelessness..
5. Prioritize shared-housing – the normative housing for most SF residents – for current homeless persons.
SF has 8,600 permanent supportive housing vouchers/subsidies that each support one adult. The norm for middle-to-lower income persons in San Francisco and the world is shared housing – whether that is 4 Ivy League grads sharing a house or 3 tech coders sharing a 3 bedroom apartment. SF and other Bay Area homeless services needs to prioritize the development of shared-housing opportunities for any new or re-opened voucher. This can create 50 to 100 percent more housing opportunities with the same amount of funding. Only a very small percentage of homeless persons clinically require their own apartment, most can and many thrive in shared-living situations. Shared-living is how most people make it in San Fran. It is both appropriate and beneficial for social animals like humans.
6. Explain to the public you cannot end homelessness unless you want a police state
Stalin and Hitler ended homelessness. In the US, we have civil rights that allow persons to occupy public spaces. How much space is between the community and the constitution. These same civil rights allow people to own a gun, marry same sex partners, practice their religion, and seek justice for crimes. To a large extent, persons living in public urban space is a social movement that says “F-You” to the wealthy who also enjoy the same city. We can do better, but we should not even attempt to end homelessness and people need to understand the reasons.
You have made a good start by hiring two medical professionals to take on the leadership of the Center. Homelessness is co-morbid with a high prevalence of serious disabilities and chronic health conditions. As we know, living on the streets is associated with a shorten life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.
The Center needs to add to its arsenal diversity in the understanding of the roots causes of homelessness (not affordable housing), the analytics required to monitor progress, and the creativity to apply normative housing solutions to quicken the pace of action. Unfortunately, the Science of Homelessness is currently at a Second Grade level. We need to improve it enough to earn a High School diploma, and by doing so, improve the homeless situation and the public’s understanding of homelessness in both SF, the greater Bay Area and the Nation.
Michael Ullman, Ph.D.
National Homeless Information Project