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In San Francisco, Hundreds of Homes for the Homeless Sit Vacant

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Art by Bianca Bagnarelli, special to ProPublica

According to an investigation by journalist Nuala Bishari in conjunction with The San Francisco Public Press and ProPublica, at least 400 people living outside have been on a waitlist for supportive housing for more than a year. San Francisco has more than enough rooms for all of them.

Via SF Public Press :

For more than a year, San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has wrestled with a growing number of vacancies. Despite having more than 1,600 homeless people on the waitlist for these units, 888 sit empty. By the department’s own estimation, at least 400 of those people have been waiting for more than a year — far beyond its own goal of 45 days.

Nuala Bishari — a reporter for the San Francisco Public Press and a fellow with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network — spent 10 months investigating the city’s methods for getting people out of tents or other short-term shelter and into permanent supportive housing.

Today, the two newsrooms jointly published “In San Francisco, Hundreds of Homes for the Homeless Sit Vacant,” the first part of Bishari’s investigation of the path from homelessness to housing, in which she found:

  • Vacancies have doubled in the past 15 months in San Francisco’s permanent supportive housing — units it has purchased, leased or contracted out to private service providers.
  • Filling those empty rooms would cut the waiting list by more than half — and it would be enough to house roughly one in every eight homeless people in the city.
  • Officials acknowledge that at least 400 people approved for permanent supportive housing have been waiting more than a year.
  • The $598 million annual budget for the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has tripled since the department was created in 2016. The city now has more than 8,000 supportive housing units, but it’s still not enough for all those in need.

During the pandemic, the process for moving people into empty units was complicated by new rules prioritizing housing for people living in shelter-in-place hotels over those living in tents, error-prone tracking software, slowness in transferring applications to service providers, unresolved maintenance issues in empty units, requirements for identification and documentation that are challenging or impossible for someone living on the street, and a chronic shortage of case managers.

The San Francisco Public Press is a nonprofit news organization that produces local investigative reporting and explanatory public-interest journalism. ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.


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