A Board of Supervisors panel this afternoon took up a Civil Grand Jury report that found San Francisco is on the right track with its push to create more permanent housing for homeless people but that new tools are needed to make sure service dollars aren’t being wasted.

In particular, it was interesting to watch members of the board’s Government Audit & Oversight Committee and Newsom administration officials tip-toe around the Grand Jury’s call for a computerized tracking system that confidentially assigns a number to each client of city-funded homeless services agencies to determine which programs are working best.

“The Jury believes that such a tracking system, properly designed and maintained, will be an invaluable tool for establishing the effectiveness and cost effectiveness” of city-funded service providers, according to a report, titled “The Homeless Have Homes, But They Are Still on the Street.”

The tip-toeing was on display because supervisors and administration officials either don’t want to take on or share the view of advocates for homeless people who see such a tracking system as a violation of privacy and potential obstacle to getting care to people who are distrustful of how the information would be used by authorities.

Dariush Kayhan, the mayor’s chief homeless policy director, never addressed the call for the tracking system directly but contended the city is keeping a close enough eye on the dozens of nonprofit agencies under contract to deliver homeless services.

“We know what they are doing,” Kayhan said, adding, “I am very comfortable with the nonprofit agencies and how they are performing.”

Supervisor Eric Mar suggested more attention on monitoring how homeless services dollars are spent might detract from the services themselves.

“I want to see strong services to people on the street,” Mar said.

The grand jury recommended the tracking system in part out of concern that public support for spending on homeless services could be threatened by a misperception that progress isn’t being made.

For example, the grand jury found that the city is ahead of its goal to open 3,000 new supportive housing units, dwellings linked to addiction, mental-health, job-training and other rehabilitative and restorative services.

Moreover, the emphasis on development of this type of permanent supportive housing–combined with a shift in policy to providing care instead of cash to homeless people–has coincided with a decline in homelessness, the grand jury found. At last count, in January 2007, there were 6,377 homeless people in San Francisco, down 26 percent from a 2002 count of 8,640, according to the report.

But, not surprisingly, the progress has come at a cost, the report notes. In fiscal year 2008, the city budgeted $186 million for direct services to homeless people and people at risk of becoming homeless, with about half going to about 80 private, mostly nonprofit social service organizations, the grand jury reported. In fiscal year 1994, according to a Board of Supervisors budget analyst report, direct spending on homeless services was $31.1 million, suggesting a six-fold increase in outlays to address homelessness.

At the same time, the grand jury found, the city’s more robust spending hasn’t coincided with a decline in panhandling, public drinking and drug dealing, sleeping in doorways, and other behaviors the public associates with homelessness.

“The City’s residents are justifiably skeptical of the quantifiable successes,” the report states, “because their eyes tell them a different story as they walk downtown or in their neighborhoods.”

An important next step, the grand jury concluded, is a tracking system that allows city officials to follow clients of homeless services through the system so they can determine which programs helping most and which might be contributing to the status quo.

“The City clearly has the will to end chronic homelessness,” the report states. “The challenge is how to house the homeless without creating a new, ever-growing and unsustainable entitlement program.”

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!
  • Able Dart

    Funny, I still see an overwhelming number of chronic homeless on Downtown’s streets. I doubt any progress has been made at all.

    It goes without saying that any social service case management regime requires a way to track the process of clients. We have similar programs with GA clients and other programs. There are safeguards in those programs. SFPD can’t just demand the GA or SSI address records of a given client who may have warrants, for instance.

    The Board will never contribute to solving the homelessness problem because they receive endorsements and campaign assistance from homeless-oriented NGOs who want to be able to keep their service contracts. Downtown wants to see the homeless “moved along” someplace else, which is impossible. The Mayor has turned the issue into a cruel Potemkin Village sideshow with a program that allows corporations and constituents to feel better about themselves on the issue by letting them donate free massages.

    The only answer to chronic homelessness is intervention. Implementation of Laura’s Law, increased cooperation between MAP and SFPD, and the opening of transitional shelters for cumpulsory committment cases. And the program needs to be run directly by DSS/DPH, not contracted out.

    Of course, that would violate the sensibilities of our City’s political class, who use the ethical fiction “people have a right to live without money” to defend the presence of the homeless, which they in turn use to propagandize their constituents about the continuing need for their brand of social change – which never seems to arrive despite the fact that they were supposedly elected to enact it.

    Richard Ramirez once said “In the absence of government strategies of how to help the lunatic or the destitute, or the addicted, we pass out quarters. In return, the homeless give us the assurance that we live in San Francisco.”

  • Able Dart

    Funny, I still see an overwhelming number of chronic homeless on Downtown’s streets. I doubt any progress has been made at all.

    It goes without saying that any social service case management regime requires a way to track the process of clients. We have similar programs with GA clients and other programs. There are safeguards in those programs. SFPD can’t just demand the GA or SSI address records of a given client who may have warrants, for instance.

    The Board will never contribute to solving the homelessness problem because they receive endorsements and campaign assistance from homeless-oriented NGOs who want to be able to keep their service contracts. Downtown wants to see the homeless “moved along” someplace else, which is impossible. The Mayor has turned the issue into a cruel Potemkin Village sideshow with a program that allows corporations and constituents to feel better about themselves on the issue by letting them donate free massages.

    The only answer to chronic homelessness is intervention. Implementation of Laura’s Law, increased cooperation between MAP and SFPD, and the opening of transitional shelters for cumpulsory committment cases. And the program needs to be run directly by DSS/DPH, not contracted out.

    Of course, that would violate the sensibilities of our City’s political class, who use the ethical fiction “people have a right to live without money” to defend the presence of the homeless, which they in turn use to propagandize their constituents about the continuing need for their brand of social change – which never seems to arrive despite the fact that they were supposedly elected to enact it.

    Richard Ramirez once said “In the absence of government strategies of how to help the lunatic or the destitute, or the addicted, we pass out quarters. In return, the homeless give us the assurance that we live in San Francisco.”