Friday, July 22, 2016
[San Francisco City and County] SF civil grand jury calls for homelessness reforms
The San Francisco civil grand jury handed the city’s new homelessness czar what amounts to a ringing endorsement for his key plans Tuesday when it called for more housing for street people, better routing into that housing from shelters and the creation of a system closely tracking homeless clients through aid agencies.
After studying the city’s homeless system from September 2015 to the end of May, the grand jury found that although low-income housing is crucial for preventing homelessness and helping the most able people move indoors, the most troubled, or chronically homeless, will need more supportive housing, which includes intensive counseling in the same building.
“Even if we did have four walls to offer everyone in need, some of the homeless are not prepared or equipped to thrive on their own,” the grand jury said in its report.
The panel recommended not only that the city create more supportive housing, but also that it expand the counseling-enriched Navigation Center shelter system and devise a single housing application system.
“San Francisco and San Franciscans cannot be accused of apathy,” the grand jury wrote. Nonetheless, it noted, in the past decade, the homeless population has remained stuck at about 6,500, and by some counts is much higher.
That’s despite the city having housed thousands — about 13,000 indigent people — and sending another 10,000 to waiting family or friends in other cities, the panel noted. The city now spends about $241 million a year on homelessness, about half of which is spent on housing alone.
“We wonder why, with money and good intentions, hasn’t the homeless population been reduced in San Francisco?” the report said. “Perhaps a hint is found in a quote from the Utah report (about that state all but eliminating chronic homelessness): ‘Although the causes of homelessness are complex, there are solutions. It takes a high level of collaboration and focus to implement effective interventions.’”
The creation this month of the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the report said, gives an excellent opportunity to achieve that kind of collaboration and focus.
“Homelessness can be solved,” said grand jury member Jean Bogiages, a retired software engineer. “Everybody’s trying, but you have different approaches. That’s why this business of having one agency — the new department — that will try to coordinate everything will be so useful.”
Much of what was in the report is what Jeff Kositsky had been advocating for years before he assumed his job as director of the new homelessness department. In particular, a tracking system is a priority.
The grand jury found “no common intake database which contained basic identification information as well as health history, housing history and criminal history.”
If every city agency and nonprofit that deals with street people shares information, Kositsky and the grand jury said, counselors can avoid duplicating efforts.
For instance, if a social worker knows why someone didn’t work out in a certain form of drug treatment or living situation, that worker can craft a better plan.
“It’s all common sense,” Kositsky said.
One grand jury recommendation he did not fully agree with, however, was to make Homeless Outreach Team street counselors the first responders to nonviolent homeless situations. Counselors are a crucial part of the equation, he said, but sometimes the police might be more appropriate as the first contact if dangerous factors might be involved — such as heavy drug use in a tense environment.
July 12, 2016
By Kevin Fagan