Understanding Homelessness in SF: Some Key Considerations

People often ask if San Francisco can turn the tide on homelessness. The answer is always an unequivocal yes, we can.

But, progress will only happen if we see the problem clearly, stay committed to proven solutions, and rally the support of San Franciscans from all walks of life.

We need you to be the person in your circle of family and friends to share the facts about how we can address the homelessness crisis in San Francisco with the urgency, humanity, and innovation it requires.

Read below to see how we are thinking about solutions as we close out 2019. And please share this guide with your friends and family members by sharing it on Facebook.

In a city with our values and resources, we should not accept the fact that, tonight, thousands of people will go to sleep on our streets. San Francisco will be a better, healthier city when everyone has a home.

We are helping more people than ever before to exit homelessness, but homelessness continues to increase.

In the last year, nearly 2,100 people exited homelessness, but homelessness is still increasing, rising 17% between 2017 and 2019. That’s because more people are falling into homelessness than ever before. Because of the housing affordability crisis, systemic inequities, and a failing safety net, things that used to be minor setbacks can now have serious and debilitating impacts on our San Francisco neighbors. An eviction or losing your job could mean losing your home.


Homes with supportive services are an effective solution.

Homes with supportive services are proven and effective. Research has shown that services are critical to maintaining housing stability. We must also find ways to expand access to mental health services and substance abuse care to those who desperately need them. And, when a person has stabilized, we need to have a housing option ready for them so that they aren’t forced to return to the streets.


Current strategies won’t create new homes fast enough to meet the demand.

The City has historically relied on three strategies to secure housing for people experiencing homelessness: new construction of permanent supportive housing, master leasing residential buildings, and turnover of existing permanent supportive housing units. In the next three years, the City has plans to build and master lease around 1,200 new homes.

But these strategies can take a long time—on average, new construction takes five to seven years to complete. While we must support these housing solutions, we can’t wait years to take bold steps to address this crisis. San Francisco’s residents—housed and unhoused—want to see progress now.


Moving into existing Housing is fast and effective.

There is a fast and nimble strategy we can use to supplement master leasing buildings or new construction: helping people move into existing vacant units. By providing a flexible rental subsidy and comprehensive support in the housing search process, we can help people move into vacant apartment units all across San Francisco. They receive supportive services that meet them where they are to remain stably housed.

This strategy has already been proven highly effective. A recent City pilot program, the Moving On Initiative, housed 193 people ready for more independence in vacant units all across San Francisco. All 193 of those people continue to live with the increased autonomy, comfort, and safety that a home of their own provides. It would take less than 1% of our City’s housing stock to house every unsheltered person experiencing homelessness.

The All In campaign has set a goal of securing 1,100 units throughout the City in two years. Helping people move into existing vacant housing will help us do just that.


The solution to homelessness starts with you.

We need a groundswell of support for effective strategies. As a City, we can no longer afford to support solutions in theory but oppose them when they’re in our backyard. You went All In because you know what works. Here are a few things you could do right now to help make the progress we need:

Further Reading

If you’d like to learn more about the solutions to homelessness, here are a few great resources: