According to the Chronicle, San Francisco’s spent $1 billion since 2004 on health care, social services, and housing for our city’s homeless population, which breaks down to about $142,857,143 a year. But groups as disparate as the Visitors and Convention Bureau and Coalition on Homelessness say that the city’s homeless problem’s gotten worse, not better, in the Newsom era.

City officials say that the number of homeless folks we have on our streets has dropped to 6,500, from 8,640 counted in 2002. But executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness Jennifer Friedenbach says that they’ve “seen a tripling in the number of families and a 50 percent increase in single adults seeking shelter,” and that she feels services are actually being cut as the demand grows.

Joe D’Alessandro, head of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau tells the Chron that both visitors and locals complain to him about aggressive panhandlers, saying “your city is so beautiful, but we get harassed whenever we go out walking.”

The mayor recently told the Chron that 12,000 people have left our streets under his Care Not Cash initative, but argued that homelessness is a national problem. “This city is not an island,” Newsom said.

What do you think? Do you feel things are getting better or worse for our homeless population? Have you seen homelessness-related issues like aggressive panhandling improve or deteriorate in recent years? Vote in the poll to your left (sorry, RSS folks, you’ll need to click through) or expand on your thinking in the comments.

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • James D

    I think it’s time for our policy makers to say what has been until now a sacrilegious truth: the homeless problem and the panhandling problem are separate. Sure lots of homeless people are panhandlers but a lot of San Francisco’s most visible and aggressive folks are not homeless.

  • James D

    I think it’s time for our policy makers to say what has been until now a sacrilegious truth: the homeless problem and the panhandling problem are separate. Sure lots of homeless people are panhandlers but a lot of San Francisco’s most visible and aggressive folks are not homeless.

  • Megan Allison

    IMHO, the homeless “problem” is relatively static. Our dubiously effective suite of homeless services throw millions down a futility toilet every year blithely hoping that *this year* will be the year they make a difference! We have a structural population of homeless and indigent because (a) it’s a CITY. Cities naturally attract and support a population of people who can’t support themselves, and (b) social factors of our city contribute to the likelihood we’ll always have a vagrancy issue (the weather, social acceptance of drug use and alternative lifestyles, a public oceanfront, etc.)

    The population and locations of SF’s homeless have appeared about the same to me for at least 20 years (or since I’ve been old enough to notice), with maybe slight shifts in neighborhoods as they gentrify. I still see most of the same actual vagrant individuals on a daily basis in the Haight and Inner Sunset that I’ve been seeing since the late 90’s. I’ve got some favorites.

  • Megan Allison

    IMHO, the homeless “problem” is relatively static. Our dubiously effective suite of homeless services throw millions down a futility toilet every year blithely hoping that *this year* will be the year they make a difference! We have a structural population of homeless and indigent because (a) it’s a CITY. Cities naturally attract and support a population of people who can’t support themselves, and (b) social factors of our city contribute to the likelihood we’ll always have a vagrancy issue (the weather, social acceptance of drug use and alternative lifestyles, a public oceanfront, etc.)

    The population and locations of SF’s homeless have appeared about the same to me for at least 20 years (or since I’ve been old enough to notice), with maybe slight shifts in neighborhoods as they gentrify. I still see most of the same actual vagrant individuals on a daily basis in the Haight and Inner Sunset that I’ve been seeing since the late 90’s. I’ve got some favorites.

  • Josh

    It’s so not a good article because it’s missing so many component parts. We spend most of our public health money on a small percentage of really ill people who go in and out of the hospital, in part due to exposure. A big part of the problem is that the mentally ill don’t have anywhere to go.
    Does care not cash work? Yes, it gets a large percentage of the group that’s most expensive indoors, in facilities where there is a case manager on site, or nearby. The problem isn’t “Did we spend this money?” The problem is, how does one figure out the numbers for ” Since we did this, where are we saving money?, How many people avoided amputations or death by utilizing these services…”

    Yes, it’s working, but it’s come into place at a time when there’s an upswing of families becoming homeless, vets returning from the wars. Are we going to “wipe out homelessness” or from seeing people on the streets? No. Giving a person a room in an S.R.O, doesn’t give the other thousand people a place to be other than a sidewalk. Is there any time in history when S.F. hasn’t had a homeless population? No, along most other cities in most other countries. S.F. can’t change the Federal policies necessary to institute the kind of systemic reform that’s needed to be able to live in the “bubble” of no homeless, no panhandlers for the tourists to encounter.

    Oh, we could become a gambling town, stay open 24 hours a day, do large hotels across the entire face of the city, then we’d have the millions in taxes to clear the landscape, but it would be a very, very glitzy landscape.

  • Josh

    It’s so not a good article because it’s missing so many component parts. We spend most of our public health money on a small percentage of really ill people who go in and out of the hospital, in part due to exposure. A big part of the problem is that the mentally ill don’t have anywhere to go.
    Does care not cash work? Yes, it gets a large percentage of the group that’s most expensive indoors, in facilities where there is a case manager on site, or nearby. The problem isn’t “Did we spend this money?” The problem is, how does one figure out the numbers for ” Since we did this, where are we saving money?, How many people avoided amputations or death by utilizing these services…”

    Yes, it’s working, but it’s come into place at a time when there’s an upswing of families becoming homeless, vets returning from the wars. Are we going to “wipe out homelessness” or from seeing people on the streets? No. Giving a person a room in an S.R.O, doesn’t give the other thousand people a place to be other than a sidewalk. Is there any time in history when S.F. hasn’t had a homeless population? No, along most other cities in most other countries. S.F. can’t change the Federal policies necessary to institute the kind of systemic reform that’s needed to be able to live in the “bubble” of no homeless, no panhandlers for the tourists to encounter.

    Oh, we could become a gambling town, stay open 24 hours a day, do large hotels across the entire face of the city, then we’d have the millions in taxes to clear the landscape, but it would be a very, very glitzy landscape.

  • frenchjr25

    I agree with the comments so far. The vast majority of those you see on the streets are not homeless.

    What is missing are day programs, forced drug and alcohol rehab for those committing crimes, and comprehensive mental health treatment. And then once someone has achieved long-term recover from both of these systems they need to be placed in communities not related to those where they lived before. It does not help an alcoholic to take them out of the slums, spend thousands on rehab, and then put them back in the slums.

    And we must get to the point of realizing that being psychotic is not a life style and not a life choice.

    We need a sit/lie law to get people off the streets. At the same time we need to get those on general assistance (Care Not Cash) into day programs run by licensed teachers. These people tend to be horrifically undereducated. We can change this. Turn over their education to City College.

    So many things that need to be done but not the political will to do it. So sad.

  • frenchjr25

    I agree with the comments so far. The vast majority of those you see on the streets are not homeless.

    What is missing are day programs, forced drug and alcohol rehab for those committing crimes, and comprehensive mental health treatment. And then once someone has achieved long-term recover from both of these systems they need to be placed in communities not related to those where they lived before. It does not help an alcoholic to take them out of the slums, spend thousands on rehab, and then put them back in the slums.

    And we must get to the point of realizing that being psychotic is not a life style and not a life choice.

    We need a sit/lie law to get people off the streets. At the same time we need to get those on general assistance (Care Not Cash) into day programs run by licensed teachers. These people tend to be horrifically undereducated. We can change this. Turn over their education to City College.

    So many things that need to be done but not the political will to do it. So sad.

  • dd

    “We need a sit/lie law to get people off the streets.”

    frenchjr25, a sit/lie law is not a good idea for San Francisco. This directly goes against the core values of our open and accepting city. The law would make it illegal to sit on a sidewalk, or to have a lemonade stand, or to perform music in public spaces. It does not address the real issue of the homeless and panhandlers at all. It is another waste of money when it comes to this matter.

  • dd

    “We need a sit/lie law to get people off the streets.”

    frenchjr25, a sit/lie law is not a good idea for San Francisco. This directly goes against the core values of our open and accepting city. The law would make it illegal to sit on a sidewalk, or to have a lemonade stand, or to perform music in public spaces. It does not address the real issue of the homeless and panhandlers at all. It is another waste of money when it comes to this matter.

  • DT

    Enforce public health, drunk in public and vagrancy laws.

    Photo ID and fingerprint all who come to SF for services.

    Until the transient triple-dippers are identified and the resources they consume are totaled, we are whistling in the wind.

    Establish residency requirements for all services, including GA. Match San Francisco’s cash handouts to those of neighboring counties. Lifetime limits on cash handouts.

    Require 100% sobriety and adherence to medical protocols as a standard for any taxpayer funded housing. Failure to comply demotes individual to a shelter or a locked mental health facility.

    Zero tolerance for liquor stores selling to the inebriate. Require breathalyzers at point of sale in troubled neighborhoods and revoke licenses at first offense.

    Change zoning laws to prohibit sales of alcohol, tobacco, medical marijuana, accessories for narcotics and medical marijuana within 1000 feet of any medical facility, social service agency, or subsidized housing facility.

    Use Delancey Street model to increase privileges to wards of the City’s Mental Health and Social Service Facilities.

    Repatriate all non-locals to their town and state of origin. Any with repeat drunk in public, narcotics conviction, robbery or assault conviction to be issued restraining order.

  • DT

    Enforce public health, drunk in public and vagrancy laws.

    Photo ID and fingerprint all who come to SF for services.

    Until the transient triple-dippers are identified and the resources they consume are totaled, we are whistling in the wind.

    Establish residency requirements for all services, including GA. Match San Francisco’s cash handouts to those of neighboring counties. Lifetime limits on cash handouts.

    Require 100% sobriety and adherence to medical protocols as a standard for any taxpayer funded housing. Failure to comply demotes individual to a shelter or a locked mental health facility.

    Zero tolerance for liquor stores selling to the inebriate. Require breathalyzers at point of sale in troubled neighborhoods and revoke licenses at first offense.

    Change zoning laws to prohibit sales of alcohol, tobacco, medical marijuana, accessories for narcotics and medical marijuana within 1000 feet of any medical facility, social service agency, or subsidized housing facility.

    Use Delancey Street model to increase privileges to wards of the City’s Mental Health and Social Service Facilities.

    Repatriate all non-locals to their town and state of origin. Any with repeat drunk in public, narcotics conviction, robbery or assault conviction to be issued restraining order.