SF Homeless Project forcing Bay Area to confront “one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time”

Published On July 5, 2016 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Politics

More than 70 news organizations united last week to spotlight our growing homeless epidemic that is impacting not only San Francisco, but the entire Bay Area. Large Media organizations like The Chronicle, KQED News, online publishing platform Medium and smaller ones like ours staged a media takeover to force the issue onto our news feeds and spur conversation on how to tackle this as a region. A project that boldly asks the question that despite our compassion and millions of dollars, why the problem persists and is in fact worsening.

“Our aim is to provide you with the necessary information and potential options to put San Francisco on a better path” the projects coordinators note in this open letter to the city and its residents. “Then it will be up to all of us — citizens, activists, public and private agencies, politicians — to work together to get there.”  The project ultimately challenges us to make reducing homelessness our No. 1 priority.

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Over 300 videos, articles, radio shows and television reports were contributed to the collaborative project. Articles submitted from the very people who live on the streets, our policymakers tasked to provide solutions and those on the front lines that are witnessing the impacts of their efforts first hand. The solution-oriented focus of the stories channel ideas that have worked in other parts of the country and the world. From solutions as simple as providing mobile showers, to tech-driven solutions are area is known for like harnessing big data to better predict and assign resources to those that need it the most (Tech blog Gizmodo contributed a piece noting the best and worst ideas).

A few startling facts about SF’s homeless population:

  • There are 6,686 homeless SF residents (nearly two-thirds live in District 6 which includes downtown).
  • 29% of SF’s homeless are not native to the county of San Francisco
  • 1,500 of the most chronically homeless people cost the city over $80,000 each
  • 8 SF depts. and 76 private & nonprofit organizations spend $241 million annually to combat homelessness
  • SF experiences an influx of 450 homeless people each year
  • One third of all homeless are thought to be mentally ill
  • Medical, mental health or substance abuse services cost the city more than $150 million the last fiscal year
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A row of Oakland artist Gregory Kloehn’s “Tiny Homes” right under the MacArthur Maze that millions pass over annually.

Here in Emeryville, we’ve largely relied on local law enforcement for dealing with the homeless. This policy might explain why many of the encampments butt right up to our border and are occasionally swept by Oakland Public Works. As a neighbor to one of the area’s biggest encampments under the MacArthur Maze, it’s been frustrating to witness the same tactic used over and over again with seemingly zero underlying strategy to actually alleviating homelessness. The City of Emeryville dedicates almost no resources to homelessness which include sponsoring a small number of emergency shelter beds at a regional center in Berkeley. Emeryville’s role in tackling homelessness will be a small one but an important one nonetheless.

The E’ville Eye submitted a very thorough piece by Emeryville City Council candidate and longtime homeless advocate John Bauters. A piece that provides an overview on the history of homeless and takes the “Housing First” stance that providing housing without barriers or preconditions for admission will lead to a path of employment and self-sufficiency for more of the homeless and reduce the staggering medical costs.

Read the aggregate of stories on sfhomelessproject.com, The Chronicle’s special Beyond Homelessness section, SF Gate’s coverage and KQED News’ dedicated SF Homeless project sections. A recap of the project was written by Chronicle Editor-In-Chief Audrey Cooper.

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

One Response to SF Homeless Project forcing Bay Area to confront “one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time”

  1. Steve Lowe says:

    If we’re going to tackle the problem of homelessness and do it right, we’ll have to first make sure we’ve identified all the parts and pieces so that the long term plan is congruent with any short term fixes for Parts A through Z, otherwise we’re just kicking the grenade down the road – the prevalent political solution in these times.

    This means that the entire Bay Area will have to cooperate and make necessary adjustments to the regional economy so that the tremendous waste of resources that we incur every year in order to keep pretending that this out-of-control condition doesn’t exist – or is a natural outgrowth of having too many Black or Hispanic folks in our not-very-well-integrated Ring City, aka the Bay Area megalopolis now coalescing around us.

    If the MTC / ABAG “merger” – remember the UP / SP “merger” a few years back? – leaves us all under the yoke of a superagency or de facto One Bay Area government, it’s possible that the homeless problem can be dealt with as a most logical part of making that economic adjustment.

    But the history of how this condition of homelessness (and its evil twin sister, envirocrime) came to be reveals a different pattern and/or mindset among the cadre of planners, economic development gurus and agency administrators whose stranglehold on the funds necessary to resolve the problem is pretty obviously the biggest part of the problem in the first place.

    We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that half measures will work to contain this problem and make it go away long enough for it to become someone else’s problem. There has to be a mandate set before those responsible for regional planning and economic development, and that mandate has to be articulated and reinforced by our local elected officials, not some desk jockey out in Washington DC where “hands-on” means only that there’s a bunch of appropriations that he or she can maybe throw our way – if we can qualify for the terms and conditions set forth by some ranking policy wonk hiding somewhere in the bowels of this soon-to-be lame-duck administration.

    Can we depend on the elected officials in our area to ensure that the MTC / ABAG merger will produce something other – higher, better and smarter! – than just another funhouse mirror version of the same responsibility-shuffling agency that has plainly not well-served the epicenter of the Bay Area here in West Oakland / Emeryville at all?

    – Steve Lowe
    VP, West Oakland Commerce Association

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