Want to end homelessness? Start asking questions.
Maybe there’s a child in your life now—or you remember being the little one yourself—who peppers every conversation with a series of questions. No answer is satisfactory, so the conversation blooms to feed the curiosity machine. But as we get older, that curiosity fades. We learn more, and we fill in gaps and unknowns with something we’d heard before or something that we, in our accumulated wisdom, accept as a universal truth.
But what if we reignited that spark and applied the question game of our youth to some very grown-up issues?
Asking why, how, when, and more, about homelessness challenges our assumptions and expands what we (think we) know. It engages us in solutions-oriented conversations instead of relying on debate or retreating in cynicism, and it reveals how much homelessness intersects with other issues facing our community.
And it helps us start to understand our role in the issue, both as part of the problem—and the potential to be part of the solution.
Where Do We Start?
As a public education and engagement campaign, we at All In believe there are no wrong questions. We do recognize it can be hard to know where to begin on a topic as complex as homelessness, so here are some of the questions we get asked:
1.Who experiences homelessness?
The very visible signs of homelessness on our streets— tents, people experiencing psychiatric crises—only tell part of the story, and it can be tempting to think there is only one way to experience homelessness. In reality, for the roughly 8,000 people who experience homelessness on a given night in San Francisco, there are as many causes and stories of homelessness. We can tease out some general trends, though. For example, almost 70% of the people already had a home in San Francisco before their homelessness experience. And though Black residents only make up 6% of San Francisco’s total population, more than 30% of people experiencing homelessness are Black—a consequence of pervasive, systemic racism.
2. Why is one of the wealthiest cities in the world struggling to end homelessness?
Simply put, our supply of affordable housing and access to health care has not kept pace with the demand. Every year, we exit over 1,000 people from homelessness, but, many more become homeless and tragically, many remain homeless for years, even decades. San Francisco has relied heavily on a single strategy: creating more permanent supportive housing (PSH). While PSH is critical, a one-size-fits-all approach does not meet the needs of the range of people experiencing homelessness, nor does it allow us to respond with the agility and urgency required. We need to grow the solution space with more options, and with money from Prop C, we have the way to do it. Now, the only question that remains is, do we have the will?
“Even though I’m homeless, I’m not helpless. Everyone needs love and assistance.”
– The View From Outside
3. How do we solve homelessness?
In truth, the solution to homelessness isn’t a mystery. When a person moves into a home, with supportive services if required, they end their homelessness. Last year, Tipping Point Community, our sponsoring organization, with the support of philanthropic partners, piloted a new strategy to get people into housing as soon as they’re ready. The Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool connects people with vacant, market-rate units throughout the city. Read more about our effort here.
4. Where can I learn more about what the City of San Francisco is doing?
The local homelessness response is coordinated by San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing and numerous community based organizations. Their data is bureaucratic and located in many places, making it difficult and too intimidating to dive into. That’s where we come in.
We publish an update, our monthly Snapshot, to show how many people exited homelessness, explain what’s happening in the system, and show how the City is progressing on its goals. Check out our collection of Snapshots here.
The Biggest Question About Homelessness
We’ve saved what we consider to be the biggest question about homelessness for last: How can I be part of the solution? We could truly talk about this for days, but for now, the answer is simple: Go All In with us. Here’s how to start:
- Download and read The View From Outside. Spend some time reading these stories, and you may answer some lingering questions and learn more about the issue we see every day. When we get to know the stories behind a person’s homelessness experience, we can see the issue for all its complexities and replace cynicism with curiosity and compassion.