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San Francisco Gets $100 Million to Fight Homelessness

Flickr / Franck Michel

San Francisco’s 10-year plan to abolish homelessness just received a major boost.

Tipping Point, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty in the Bay Area, committed $100 million to the cause, an investment that will go a long way toward improving housing security and living conditions for the city’s most marginalized.   

“There is no silver bullet to solve the complex issue of homelessness,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement. “We want new ideas to address this issue, and must tackle it from all angles. Tipping Point is bringing enormous private sector resources to help the city expand programs proven to be successful in moving people off the streets and connecting them with resources they need.”

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The money will be used to create more accessible housing, address underlying issues such as mental health and criminal justice, and bolster government welfare programs. Tipping Point will disburse grants to organizations that focus on the specific needs of the homeless.

Since the announcement, 34 beds have been added to the mental health respite center in the Mission district at a cost of $612,000.

An estimated 7,000 homeless people live in San Francisco, and the number could be much higher, according to the National Law Center on Homeless and Poverty, if the criteria for homelessness were expanded to include people who lose their housing and have to move in with relatives or friends and if there was more rigorous monitoring. For instance, children are notoriously undercounted in official estimates, according to NLCHP.

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Even when considering the HUD’s numbers, San Francisco’s homeless population has increased by about 16% since 2010, while the rest of the country has seen a 14% decline over a similar period.

The main cause of this surge is the rising cost of living, exacerbated by a lack of jobs or low wages, according to HUD.

San Francisco has the most expensive housing in the country and the seventh highest cost of living,according to an index by The Economist

But homelessness is affected by a range of other factors — an unexpected illness, domestic violence, mental health issues, substance abuse, and more.

There are more than 2,000 chronically homeless people — those who live on the streets for more than a year —  in San Francisco, according to Tipping Point. That’s who this financial commitment is primarily targeting.  

“We’re drawing a line in the sand and saying enough is enough,” Daniel Lurie, the founder of Tipping Point, told The Guardian.

Lurie isn’t the only one drawing a line in the sand.

In 2014, Mayor Lee created the city’s long-term plan to end homelessness and, since taking office in 2012, has significantly increased funding for programs addressing the issue.

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Since then, the city has expanded transitional housing units, improved eviction prevention services, increased funding for family, youth, and unemployment services, and revamped the system securing a bed in a homeless shelter, among other measures.

Lee knows first-hand how precarious and stressful housing is for the city’s poor — he’s lived in public housing and has fought as a lawyer for public housing tenants.

But the plight of the city’s poor has become even more uncertain in the past several years.

Last year, dozens of media organizations teamed up for a blitz of in-depth coverage of homelessness in the city in an effort to spur action.    

The Tipping Point’s commitment shows that the private sector, which funded the push, could be coming around to provide solutions as well.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 12.56.39 PM.pngTipping Point

Many of the city’s long-term residents blame the boom of technology and related industries for the surge in homelessness, and worry that the current measures to address the issue are merely stop-gap and don’t address underlying problems that come from inequality.

“It’s going to be three years and the problem still won’t be dealt with and we’ll just go on calling it intractable,” San Francisco homeless activist Paul Boden told The Guardian.

But the increased attention, and funding, is undeniably a good thing.

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Across the country, cities and towns are confronting homelessness with a renewed focus, but they’re not always dealing with the issue compassionately.

For example, Honolulu has gone to great lengths to criminalize homelessness after declaring a state of emergency.

And New York, which has the most homeless people in the country, is roundly criticized for failing to adequately deal with youth homelessness and for its hard-to-reach shelters.  

San Francisco seems to be united in the effort to end homelessness by adding urgency to what is usually a low priority problem.

“While in the last 10 years, we’ve changed many lives for the better,” wrote Lee in his 10-year plan. “We still need to do more, and the proof is what we see on the streets every day.”